The Army’s missile shields for the Abrams tank, Bradley and Stryker need more testing before their worth to soldiers is proven and the expense of retrofitting them onto the vehicles is warranted, according to the Pentagon’s chief weapon tester.

In its annual report on major Defense Department and service-specific programs, the Director of Test and Evaluation said the Trophy active protection system the Army wants to install on the Abrams to protect it from guided missiles may not be worth the added weight.

“Phase 1 Trophy live fire testing demonstrated the capability of the Trophy APS system to counter two of the three class threats tested,” the report says. “However, the additional protection afforded to the crew and system by the APS and the tradeoff between APS performance and known performance of reactive armor tiles (which APS replaces on certain parts of the vehicle) should be further verified in Phase 2 testing.”

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 report goes on to say “Phase 1 testing included several limitations that inhibit an assessment of the APS performance with confidence.”

The Army’s Ground Combat Systems program office (PEO GCS) has been characterizing the performance of several APS suites over the past year. Initial plans called for six months of characterization followed by six months of integration for each of the systems beginning with Abrams and moving on to Bradley and Stryker.

Ashley Givens, a spokeswoman for PEO GCS, told Defense Daily that the benefits of equipping Abrams tanks with Trophy “far outweigh any potential negative impacts,” including the addition of 5,000 pounds to the tank.

“In making the decision to move into the next phases of procurement for Trophy, the Army has weighed performance of the Trophy system against any potential impacts to the tank, and determined that the benefits far outweigh any potential negative impacts,” Givens said in an email. “Operational crews have operated tanks outfitted with the system, reported minimal impacts, and indicated that they would be ready to take the system to war as is.  Like any system on a combat vehicle, Trophy works in concert with other elements of the vehicle to provide holistic protection — this includes both passive and reactive armor as well as other protection technologies.”

While Trophy – made by Israeli firm Rafael and distributed in the U.S. by Leonardo DRS –  was paired with Abrams, the Israeli Military Industries Iron Fist, built in the U.S. by IMI partner General Dynamics [GD], is being tested aboard the Bradley. The Artis Iron Curtain is being vetted for protecting the Stryker.

DOT&E found the Army did not test the systems on combat-configured vehicles or real-world scenarios. The systems also failed to perform as advertised on many occasions, a fact which Col. Glenn Dean, who is leading the characterization effort, has publicly acknowledged. Analysis of the Trophy system on Abrams is ahead of the other systems, so the DOT&E report deals mostly with the deficiencies of Trophy.

“Tests were severely limited in realism by unexpected system corrections, calibrations, and limitations imposed by the contractors,” the report says. “Some contractors also communicated several unexpected performance limitations of their APS systems, requiring extensive modification of planned test events. Because of these and other limitations, it is reasonable to assume that any performance reporting from Phase 1 is optimistic and needs to be confirmed in more operationally realistic conditions in Phase 2.”

The report also acknowledges that initial installation of Trophy on the Abrams caused a turret imbalance that has since been corrected, according to PEO GCS.

Maj. Gen. David Bassett, who leads PEO GCS, has said that it was never the Army’s intention to test the systems aboard fully operational, combat configured tanks because the effort was merely an exercise to determine the protective benefits of the systems. For this reason, Bassett’s shop also did not balance the turret of its test tank before characterizing Trophy’s performance.

“Because the Army was assessing the initial performance of the Trophy system, they did not want to use a fully-operational tank for fear of the system not performing as advertised,” Givens said. “This initial phase of the Buy, Try, Decide loop mitigated the loss of an operational tank if Trophy did not protect the vehicle.  Luckily, the Trophy system performed as anticipated and the tank was protected from all the incoming threats. The Army’s decision to use a test tank as opposed to a fully-loaded vehicle was a risk mitigation measure. The Army is committed to the most realistic testing within the time and fiscal constraints of the Trophy program.”

A continuing concern for all three vehicles is the added weight and power demands of the APS gear aboard combat vehicles that have been routinely burdened with sensors, weapons and other stuff over the past 16-odd years of continuous combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Abrams can handle an extra 5,000 pounds, the Iron Curtain systems adds even more – 5,700 pounds – to the comparatively light Stryker, according to the DOT&E report. By contrast, the Iron Fist system adds only 450 pounds to the Bradley, which could only accept the system in its A4 configuration that boosts power generation and moves the turret ring forward enough to fit the system.

“The expedited APS effort is to rapidly assess readiness of non-developmental APS systems; the Army has not yet completed its assessment of Iron Curtain or Iron Fist and has made no decisions about the future,” Givens said. “In selecting APS systems to evaluate on our platforms, we balanced integration burdens, threat defeat, and platform protection requirements.”

None of the decisions to date are set in stone and the Army has not put procurement money toward any of the protection systems. The service has been careful to note that the vehicle-APS pairings are neither determinant or final. One industry source told Defense Daily that the Iron Fist system, which is an evolutionary technology to Trophy, is suited for multiple vehicles.

BAE Systems recently unveiled a version of its CV90 armored personnel carrier outfitted with an Iron Fist Light version. The hard-kill protection system, capable of detecting, identifying, tracking and destroying incoming guided missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifle rounds, was conspicuous in photos of the vehicle posted on social media.

“While more than one system could potentially work on multiple combat platforms, the advantage of having selected different systems allows us to maximize our opportunity for success in the case of a failure of one or more systems,” Givens, of PEO GCS, said. “Iron Fist is being evaluated on Bradley and should provide us sufficient data on the performance of that system for future applications.  In the case of Stryker, the Iron Curtain system lies between the weights of our currently available add-on protection solutions — it is heavier than slat armor, but lighter than Stryker Reactive Armor Tiles — and Stryker was assessed as the system most suitable for evaluation of a distributed type active protection system like Iron Curtain.”