The Army has finished firing missiles at the first of several vehicles outfitted with active protection systems (APS) and is on track to make a decision on whether to purchase the technology for its combat vehicles in the fall.

The first vehicle – an Abrams tank – has completed characterization of an onboard APS system at the Joint Maneuver Training Center at Camp Grayling, Mich, according to Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems (PEO GCS). Bassett was in town to participate in the Army Rapid Equipping Forum hosted by the Lexington Institute on Capitol Hill.

“Things are looking pretty good and we are working through the details of that,” Bassett said. “As I said, it’s not just about bolting it on. It’s about matching it to that platform and giving the Army a decision in the near term while we develop a longer-term modular solution that we think we can sustain more affordably.”

Abrams M1A1 Photo: General Dynamics
Abrams M1A1
Photo: General Dynamics

A decision on how to proceed – whether to buy the tested system, try it out on another vehicle or pass on a specific technology – is expected in the fall beginning with Abrams. Bradley and Stryker vehicles should follow a little behind the tank, which began characterization trials with its matched system earlier because funds were available in the existing budget, Bassett said.

“We may see that we like that system but not on that vehicle,” he said. “I think we need to continue to keep an open mind. What I tried to do was lay out an investment plan that gave us a range of input. What I didn’t want to do is test the same system on two vehicles.

The Army is not naming individual systems, but is widely understood to have mounted a DRS Technologies Trophy APS, originally developed by Israeli defense firm Rafael, onto Abrams. DRS is part of Italy’s Leonardo. Meanwhile and a little behind the Abrams schedule, the Iron Curtain missile shield designed by Artis under a DARPA development program is being tested aboard Stryker wheeled vehicles. Israeli Military Industries’ Iron Fist non-developmental APS is being tested aboard Bradley 

Sometime in the fall, the Army should know how it will pursue near-term APS capability aboard its combat vehicles while it designs a modular, open-architecture APS in parallel. That long-term effort seeks a baseline capability that enables emerging technologies like missile-tracking radars and hard- and soft-kill countermeasures to be swapped in and out at will.

With threats to combat vehicles consistently advancing and rapidly proliferating, Bassett said the Army’s pursuit of non-developmental APS has highlighted the service’s “willingness to go fast” and “bend the acquisition system to our will.”

“It has also highlighted that when you deal with a complex system, it’s not just bolting on a couple of boxes,” Bassett said. “You can’t just say ‘Go buy it and apply it and hope it works.’”

The program will end up lasting about a year – six months for acquiring, installing and characterizing APS on Abrams, Bradley and Stryker and another six months to prepare Army leadership to make an acquisition decision.

“Were going to have to eventually ask the service, and I think the chief is ready to do this, to accept some shortcomings that maybe the perfect requirement in the past couldn’t have accepted,” Bassett said.

“There’s going to be some angles it may not work at,” he added. “We can talk about the risk to soldiers around the vehicle, but it ought to be put in context of the risk to soldiers both in the vehicle and near the vehicle when an anti-tank guided missile hits it. We are no longer in an ivory tower of a perfect requirement.”