Installation and characterization of active protection systems (APS) on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker wheeled combat vehicle are lagging behind the effort to equip the Abrams tank with guided-missile shields.
The delay is a result both of lack of funding and engineering challenges with integrating APS onto the smaller vehicles that were not an issue with the tank, according to officials with the Ground Combat Systems program office (PEO GCS).
Funding authorization for the year-long effort to install and characterize APS on the Bradley and Stryker was not included in the fiscal 2017 budget, as was the funding for characterizing Trophy system on Abrams.
The two combat vehicles also have less room and power to operate APS, according to Col. Glenn Dean, who is leading the APS characterization effort for PEO GCS. Bradley and Stryker presented challenges to integrating the system that were not issues with the tank.
"Bradley has a very small turret and is a very big challenge for power," Dean said at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual expo in Washington, D.C. "We could not be doing this program without the Bradley A4 program," he said. "There just is not enough size, weight, power margin on this platform."
The first Bradley outfitted with Iron Fist is "in tuning" to dial in the sensors and countermeasures ahead of field testing the system, Dean said. Characterization of that APS-platform combination should be complete in early 2018.
Installation of Iron Curtain on Stryker is done and characterization has begun, Dean said. It should wrap up by the end of the calendar year with an acquisition decision in early 2018, he said. The system is a different approach to APS. Both the Trophy and Iron Fist APS systems employ "fly-out" countermeasures that shoot out from the vehicle and intercept or destroy an incoming projectile.
Iron Curtain is a "distributed" APS system with multiple downward-facing explosive countermeasure arrayed in a halo of sort around the vehicle. It intercepts the threat munition much closer to the vehicle than do either Trophy or Iron Fist.
"Each has their benefits and trade-offs," Dean said. "We didn't intentionally go out to select completely different systems. Frankly, it's a good thing that we have three quite different systems because it gives us good insight into the types of technologies that are available."
Iron Fist and Iron Curtain also proved less mature than advertised in real-world testing outside contractor oversight, Dean said. Trophy APS is manufactured by Israeli firm Rafael Defense Systems. Iron Curtain began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program and is made by Artis. Iron Fist is made by the former Israeli Military Industries, now called IMI Systems.
"It's one thing for the system itself to function. It's an entirely different thing for it to function once it's installed on a platform," he said. "You can have a well-functioning APS system and when you put it on a platform you may find that the limitations that platform has inherently may make the system perform differently."
PEO GCS has been careful to term the APS effort as "installation and characterization" rather than a formal test. The service wants to know what technologies are available to defeat anti-tank guided missiles, advanced rocket-propelled grenades, and recoilless rifles and how well those systems work on legacy combat vehicles. The Army is not wedded to the vehicle-system combinations it is characterizing or even to the systems currently available, said PEO GCS Chief Maj. Gen. David Bassett.
"Our goal was to get recent, relevant characterizing information on each of those platforms and capabilities," said Bassett said. "The fact that we have done the install-and-characterize phase on this system with that platform doesn't necessarily lock us into that going forward. This is about performance and stability and we retain the option of doing another install-and-characterize phase either with another type of system or the same systems we have now with different platforms."
The long-term view is that these and other technologies,“ soft-kill countermeasures, hostile-fire detection, reactive armor,“ become integrated under a program of record that is a suite of vehicle protection tailorable to specific vehicles and/or specific mission profiles. The entire suite of protection systems will be based on a common, open architecture that will allow the Army to plug in new sensors, countermeasures and other components as they emerge.
"What I'm confident in saying is we are going to build all of this on a common architecture," Dean said.
The Army is drawing up requirements documents for that suite of systems, called the Modular Active Protection System. The program office should open this fiscal year, said Paul Rogers, director of the Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center.
"The Army's strategy is to develop a suite of capabilities, to understand how all those capabilities perform and then be able to tailor the exact package for a given platform for a given threat environment," Rogers said. "We want the suite of hard-kill systems. We want the suite of soft-kill systems. We want the smoke, chaff, all the different kinds of capabilities out there so we can tailor, over time, the exact protection solution for a given vehicle in a given environment."