After buying off-the-shelf active protection systems (APS) for frontline combat vehicles, the Army plans to launch an open competition for missile shields to outfit the remainder of its fleets, according to Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Testifying before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Milley on June 7 said APS is a “critical need” the Army is seeking to fill through multiple efforts.
The Army currently is testing three non-developmental APS suites – one each for the M1 Abrams, Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker wheeled combat vehicle. They are near-term solutions to protect a portion of those fleets against proliferating anti-tank guided missiles and advance armor-piercing rocket propelled grenades.
“We’re investing in that,” Milley said. “We are acquiring those. It’s a very important capability. We want to make sure that our forces are adequately protected.”
“Right now there are only two countries whose industries produce complete systems,” he added. “We … are working very, very fast to have our industrial base produce some systems. We are working with a friendly country right now to go ahead and acquire active protection systems – we’re testing them right now to make sure they fit onto our armored vehicles because they have to be modified for each type of vehicle.”
Of those two countries, one – Israel – is on friendly terms with the United States. Israel’s tank-protecting Trophy APS, made by Rafael but distributed through DRS Technologies for the U.S. military, is undergoing testing for use aboard Abrams. The Army is testing an Iron Fist APS made by Israeli Military Industries to protect Bradley while Iron Curtain, an APS developed by Virginia-based technology firm Artis for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is being tested for use on Stryker. DRS is based in the U.S. and is part of Italy’s Leonardo.
“We intend to field those to first-responding units and we’ll eventually field them throughout the force to the entire total Army: Guard, Reserve and active,” Milley said. “By that time, however, we think the … U.S. industrial commercial solutions will be available. Probably put it out at that point for a competitive bid when we expand it to the entire Army.”
The Army is “characterizing” each system’s appropriateness for a specific vehicle. The companies involved are not in competition. a parallel effort called the modular active protection system (MAPS) seeks a longer-term modular system into which sensors and countermeasures can be swapped as new technologies or missions emerge. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is under contract to develop the open-architecture processor for MAPS.
Raytheon [RTN] also developed and is ready to demonstrate a hard-kill APS that initially was intended for the army’s now-defunct Future Combat Systems family of vehicles.
The other country that makes a fielded APS suite – Russia – is the primary reason that APS acquisition is being expedited for the U.S. Army.
Germany has developed a prototype called the active defense system (ADS) that has been tested on several European-made combat vehicles but not fielded.
The Marine Corps is keeping an eye on the Army’s analysis of non-developmental APS and is testing Trophy aboard its M1A1 Abrams tanks alongside the larger service. Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, on June 6 told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower that future amphibious vehicles also could carry APS.
“These active protection systems have weighed an awful lot and we were not able to put them [on amphibious vehicles],” Walsh said. “It is a buoyancy thing but the technology is getting better and we are looking at that. We think with the [amphibious combat vehicle] in the future we will be able to do that.”