Guided missiles have advanced and proliferated to such a point that the Marine Corps must deploy its vehicles with more than old fashion armor to protect them, according to Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, chief of Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
“Rockets, artillery, mortars, guided antii-tank weapons, those kinds of things are proliferating…so much that to put our Marines and our soldiers out into that kind of environment without that kind of protection…it is getting to the point where we have to have it,” Walsh said at a recent Defense Writers Group meeting in Washington, D.C.
The Marine Corps has partnered with the Army in characterizing three non-developmental Active Protection Systems (APS) that, in various ways, automatically detect and destroy incoming enemy missiles before they reach a protected vehicle.
The Marine Corps has prioritized integration of the DRS Technologies Trophy APS aboard its M1A1 Abrams tanks. Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said recently that he supports installing some sort of APS on the future amphibious combat vehicle and its version of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, although existing systems will likely require modifications for installation on those vehicles.
“We’re going to put that system on there…learn from that and see if this is the direction we need to head or do we need a different system,” Walsh said. “Try rapidly prototype and move in that direction quickly.”
The Army’s pen is in the air ready to sign a contract to lease four Trophy APS systems for its M1A2 tanks, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Stryker wheeled vehicle. The larger service is characterizing Trophy along with the Iron Fist system built by Israeli Military Industries and the Iron Curtain developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and built by Artis.
Companies are building the A-kit mounting hardware for each vehicle in the test campaign and will then deliver the B-kit sensor and countermeasure systems.
Walsh said the proliferation of advanced anti-tank weapons like modern rocket-propelled grenades, Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs) and recoilless rifles requires that ground vehicles carry the same sensor and countermeasure technologies that are common on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
“When I’m flying in an F-18, I have all that protection,” he said. “I can sense, I can see where the threat is. I can define what kind of missile it is, how to defeat that missile with maneuvers or countermeasures. We have put that on our helicopters and V-22s. The problem when you get into our ground vehicles, there are so many ground vehicles, the cost of integrating it onto ground vehicles and a lot of it is weight on ground vehicles.”
Size and weight are important considerations for the Marine Corps, which has to stow its vehicles aboard amphibious ships for expeditionary operations, Walsh said. Neller voiced the same concern with adding yet another protection system to Marine Corps vehicles, but said he preferred integrating APS now to bolting on layers of heavy armor in the future.
Like the Army, the Marine Corps is interested to purchase APS suites that can be incrementally upgraded with the latest in sensor, software and countermeasure technology as it emerges, Walsh said. To that end, the service is paying close attention to the Army’s long-term modular active protection system (MAPS) program, which requires that subcomponents be built with open architecture systems that allow technology refresh and diverse systems to plug-and-play. Walsh is a featured speaker at Defense Daily’s 2016 Open Architecture Summit, scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C.
“We have to be able to continue to upgrade because the technology on the other side is getting so much better,” Walsh said.