The Army’s developmental active protection system (APS) program took a step forward when Lockheed Martin [LMT] successfully linked its open-architecture processor with Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] electro-optic sensors and countermeasures.

Lockheed and Northrop are working with the Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) to develop the Modular Active Protection System (MAPS), a guided missile shield for combat vehicles.

The recent milestone entailed hooking Lockheed’s modular data processor with Northrop’s active protection sensors and soft-kill countermeasures in a laboratory setting and testing the system’s ability to communicate signals between the components, according to Steven Botwinik, director of advanced programs at Lockheed Martin Fire Control.

A previous article in Defense Daily incorrectly stated that the MAPS prototype had been integrated onto an Abrams tank for field testing. That work should be done by the end of 2017, Botwinik clarified. MAPS would still have to pass qualification and safety testing before it could be fielded in any operational capacity. 

As intended, integration of the subsystems with the MAPS “brain” took only a few days because Northrop and Lockheed built their respective components to architecture standards established by TARDEC. 

“From the time we first saw the Northrop Grumman system, to the time we established a connection between them and qualified that a signal was being sent between then took only three or four days,” Botwinik said. 

The companies are operating under a 2015 contract to install and demonstrate the soft-kill APS on Abrams. Lockheed provides the open-architecture processor that acts as the system’s brain. Northrop provides the sensor and countermeasure systems that identify, track and defeat incoming anti-tank missiles.

U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, secure their Battalion headquarters in a M1 Abrams Tank, during Decisive Action Rotation 17-04 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb 19, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. JD Sacharok, Operations Group, National Training Center)
U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, secure their Battalion headquarters in a M1 Abrams Tank, during Decisive Action Rotation 17-04 at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., Feb 19, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. JD Sacharok, Operations Group, National Training Center)

Full-system MAPS demonstrations are scheduled before the end of calendar-year 2017 aboard an Abrams. MAPS is developing in parallel to and effort to install and characterize non-developmental existing APS on Abrams, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Stryker wheeled vehicles.

The two programs are independent but could ultimately feed into one another with the non-developmental components serving as a sort of initial configurations for MAPS that the Army then upgrades as new technologies or threats emerge, Botwinik said.

“Ultimately we are working with the industry suppliers of those systems,” he said. “If those systems are shown to be effective, we could very easily take those systems and incorporate them into a MAPs architecture.” 

“Soft-kill” APS countermeasures use electronic, acoustic or other non-kinetic signatures to spoof, redirect or disable the electronic components of anti-tank guided missiles. “Hard-kill” countermeasures fire one or more physical projectiles that destroy incoming munitions before they strike the vehicle. MAPS should eventually include both capabilities as deemed appropriate for each combat vehicle.

The Army is steadily approaching a “decision point” later this year where it will consider data collected during the characterization and then choose between purchasing non-developmental APS in the short-term or “sit on this and wait” until the Army’s own modular active protection system (MAPS) is ready, Col. Kevin Vanyo, program manager at TARDEC’s emerging capabilities office, told reporters at a recent Army conference.

The Army plans to spend about $75 million to install and characterize active protection systems on its combat vehicles. About $25 million each will go to installing and characterizing three existing APS systems on the M1 Abrams, Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker wheeled vehicle, Vanyo said. The first Abrams blast hull has an APS installed and calibrated and is now ready for live-fire testing at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.

Later this year the Army may choose to abandon purchasing non-developmental APS, buy the systems for a portion of its combat vehicle fleets or begin with existing systems and feed those components into MAPS, which will ultimately become the Army APS program of record. MAPS includes stringent requirements for open architecture that will allow the Army to swap out sensors, countermeasure and other components as new technologies come online.

“Industry’s commitment to collaborate in developing this critical capability is the key to a truly modular active protection system,” said Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control/SOF CLSS at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “Through our collaboration, we verified the value of an open-system design, which allows for easy integration of current and future MAPS components.”  

Lockheed’s Open Architecture Processor controls and processes information from multiple sensors and countermeasures, and drives information displays. Designed for safety and modularity, the processor can accommodate upgraded sensors, components and countermeasures as new technologies emerge.

Active protection system components, based on the MAPS framework which embodies open-architecture principles, can be independently developed and rapidly integrated into a MAPS- based active protection system. This saves time, reduces cost and helps ensure troops are protected from ever-evolving threats. A soft-kill capability enables the active protection system to confuse an incoming sensor-based weapon system through spoofing, interference or obscuration, resulting in the elimination of the threat

“Successful integration of the existing Northrop Grumman Passive Infrared Cueing Sensor and Multifunction Electro-Optic System countermeasure within the MAPS framework demonstrates the value of the open architecture construct,” said Arlene Camp, vice president of surveillance and targeting sensors at Northrop Grumman. “This open architecture construct, combined with multifunction capabilities, highlights the ability to adapt products developed for the air domain to the ground vehicle mission with reduced timelines and lower costs.”