The Army has pumped the breaks on the previously ambitious effort to outfit the M1 Abrams with active protection systems, deciding more time is needed to properly integrate APS components onto the tank’s turret.

On Aug. 25, the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) met to consider whether to buy a brigade’s worth of Trophy APS systems – manufactured by Israeli defense firm Rafael and distributed in the United States by Leonardo DRS – for the M1 Abrams.

It was widely expected that, after months of characterization testing of the system in live-fire trials aboard Abrams, that the effort would be greenlit. Instead, the AROC delayed an acquisition decision for 30 days so the systems could be better integrated on the tank.

Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew, from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducting Table VI Gunnery at Fort Stewart, Ga. December 8, 2016.
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew, from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducting Table VI Gunnery at Fort Stewart, Ga. December 8, 2016.

The AROC, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, directed an additional test to ensure the Army fully understands all of the issues, according to Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the Army G-8. The test will be with actual crews running actual engagement scenarios including testing with the tank while moving and while sitting still, he said.

“Initial testing has identified some weight balance issues and we want to ensure we have the placement right and that the issues are fixable before we commit to a procurement decision,” Hall told Defense Daily in an email. “The 30 days are not for fixing any issues, but to fully understand, through soldier feedback, how the installation of Trophy on the tank affects performance. Results of the testing will be brought back to [Milley] within the next several weeks, which will shape the procurement decision.” 

Milley has been a vocal proponent of APS for Abrams, as well as similar systems for the Bradley and Stryker combat vehicles. The systems basically perform as missile defense for the ground vehicles, protecting them through both active and passive measures from anti-tank guided missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. The sophisticated munitions have proliferated in recent years and were used to great effect by the Russians in Ukraine.

 At issue is the balance of the Abrams turret when heavy equipment is added. The turret rotates freely on a ring and is held on by its own weight. If the turret is out of balance, it disrupts the turret’s ability to traverse inside the ring.

Throughout the first phase of installation and characterization, the Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center and the service’s ground vehicle community in general has learned a lot about how its vehicles can support APS and what the systems are capable of in complex terrain and scenarios, according to Mike O’Leary, director of survivability and lethality for DRS Land Systems. DRS, part of Italy’s Leonardo, distributes Trophy in the United States on behalf of Israeli firm Rafael.

“We’re learning a lot of lessons coming out of phase 1,” O’Leary said in a recent interview. “We’re learning what maturity claims are real and which ones are not well supported. We continue to learn how really complex APS is to integrate on an existing platform and we’re dealing with those issues right in real time.”

“We’re learning about what performance against real threats means, not performance against in a controlled antiseptic environment against a highly controlled threat sample,” he added. “The Army did a very good job putting together a set of challenges that pushed the systems to its limits.”

The Israeli Defense Forces already field Trophy aboard its Merkava tanks and have proven the system’s effectiveness in combat. One concern that early on was voiced by the U.S. Army is that the system, which fires a projectile in the blink of an eye at incoming threat missiles, is dangerous to dismounted troops. O’Leary said that is no longer a concern.

“Equally important is we are learning what real safety means with APS on a platform – what does collateral damage really mean – at the end of the day, what you’re seeing is that all a lot of the naysayers are now silent.”