Existing active protection systems (APS) are sufficiently mature to provide Army vehicle with defense against rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank missile and other threats until a tailor-made system can be developed, according to service officials.

The Army is pursuing non-developmental APS for its wheeled and tracked vehicle feet under a series of urgent needs efforts, speeding available technologies to the field ahead of the more formal modular active protection system (MAPS) program.

Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Jan. 21 the Army is looking “very seriously” at existing APS technologies that to date have proven “pretty impressive.”

Strykers In Afghanistan Photo: General Dynamics
Strykers In Afghanistan
Photo: General Dynamics

“We are looking very seriously, in fact we issued some guidance not too long ago, on active protection systems to protect our vehicles, both wheeled and tracked vehicle fleet,” Milley said Wednesday at a breakfast hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army outside Washington, D.C. “There is a variety of systems out there that are available today on the market. There are some that are under development that could protect vehicles from inbound missiles, either anti-tank guided missiles or an RPG-sort thing or other types of munitions and they can destroy them during flight.”

To rush the needed protective systems to the field, the Army has decided to introduce vehicle survivability sets in phases, according to Army briefings.

MAPS is the only such program currently funded and seeks to establish a baseline vehicle protection suite common to the combat vehicle fleet. The Army recently awarded Lockheed Martin [LMT] $8.5 million in contracts to develop an open-architecture controller to coordinate systems that protect armored vehicles from incoming enemy rockets.

Army officials have set the service’s science and technology community to work finding a suitable APS for its vehicles that will defeat incoming airborne threats as double-V hulls and enhanced underbelly armor have done against improvised explosive devices, an Army spokesman told Defense Daily.

“The Army is always looking for ways to enhance the protection provided on our combat vehicles and recognize Active Protection Systems (APS) as a priority towards this end. APS will allow us to address a broader range of threat systems on our platforms and enhance soldier survivability,” the spokesman said in an email. “We are working hand-in-hand with the S&T community on the development of the Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) effort.”

Until MAPS is fielded, the Army plans to retrofit its vehicles with existing APS technologies, the Army official said. It is unclear whether the Army has formal plans for a test or operational assessment of existing APS or how the raid fielding effort will be funded.

“While we work toward this objective capability, we intend to install and characterize a range of
matured commercial APS solutions across the ground combat portfolio. By prototyping these integration activities cooperatively with Army S&T, potential APS vendors, and our platform integrators, we will be able to posture the Army with solutions that can be more rapidly integrated and greatly reduce both acquisition and operational risk.”

There are a few APS capabilities available, though Army documents identify two by name: the Trophy APS built by Rafael and fielded by the Israeli Defense Forces; and the Iron Curtain system developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Iron Curtain uses an active-scan C-band radar to detect and track incoming rocket-propelled grenade rounds, then deploys a distributed hard-kill countermeasure to disable the threat without detonating its warhead. Army briefings by the service’s Acquisition Support Center identify Iron Curtain as an appropriate APS for the Stryker.

The basic Trophy model is in current use by Israeli combat brigades on Merkava IV tanks and has effectively performed in combat since its introduction in 2009. The system provides 360-degree protection from all incoming anti-armor threats. Rafael also offers a lighter version small enough for use on tactical wheeled vehicles. The system can defeat RPGs outright, but needs sufficient base armor to protect against ATGMs, according to Army briefs.