Army Looks Beyond Armor to Upgrade Vehicle Fleet

Bradley Fighting Vehicle

The Army is designing a new vehicle-mounted Active Protection System that can identify, track and destroy a wide range of incoming enemy fire to include rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, service officials said.

Although the effort is geared toward protecting the Army's new infantry carrier, the Ground Combat Vehicle, the thinking is more broadly oriented toward developing an APS that can protect a range of light, medium and heavy vehicle platforms from Strykers to Bradleys and even light vehicles, Mary Miller, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, Research and Technology, told in an interview.

"We are looking for a common architecture that we can put in tactical through combat level platforms with plug and play aspects. We want to expand the architecture as you are going into a heavy combat systems to address the threats a heavy combat system would face," said Miller.

Miller referred to a recent Pentagon report that highlighted results from an evaluation of seven foreign and domestic APS technologies. The report, which resulted from congressional language in 2008 asking for such an assessment, found that none of the tested APS technologies were mature enough to field on U.S. platforms. Further development, test and evaluations were required, the report found.

"What we found is that there is no system that is quite ready yet. There are a lot of issues that still need to be worked out," she said.

One analyst said APS is among the most challenging technological areas facing the Army.

"This is one of the most challenging areas for the Army of the future. The concept of operations, responsiveness of the systems and potential for false alarm rates are all challenging," said Daniel Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Va.-based think tank.

An APS is planned for the Army's GCV, a next-generation infantry carrier designed to achieve a new combination of protection, mobility, network technologies and firepower. The GCV is now in its Technology Development phase; however, like most major Army acquisition programs, its future is uncertain in light of current budget pressures, Army officials have indicated.

Nevertheless, APS would figure prominently in the survivability equation of the GCV as it would likely impact the level of armor needed for certain missions.

Without APS, a vehicle may need up to 52 tons of passive ballistic armor to counter known and anticipated threats, whereas a vehicle with the right kind of integrated APS technology may only need 18 tons of armor, Miller explained.

Along these lines, developers of the GCV have often talked about modular armor technology, meaning armor panels or coupons which could easily be added or removed depending upon threat levels and mission requirements.

Army scientists, engineers and program managers are currently exploring the wide range of existing APS technologies with a mind to leveraging the best possible solutions for the future.

There are a number of foreign and domestic APS systems in existence at various stages of development. The concept of an APS has been around for many years. Essentially, most systems use a sensor, processor and interceptor designed to find, track and destroy approaching enemy fire in a matter of milliseconds.

Some examples include Raytheon's Quick Kill APS technology -- once part of the Army's former Future Combat Systems program. Quick Kill uses an active electronically scanned array radar to track approaching threats. It then links the information through a computer to cue a vertically launched countermeasure missile designed to quickly intercept the incoming fire. Proponents of Quick Kill praise its speed and hemispheric or 360-degree coverage area.

Another U.S. system is called Iron Curtain, made by Artis, a Va.-based technology firm. Iron Curtain uses radar and optical sensors combined with high-speed computing and explosively formed penetrators to destroy approaching threats.

International variants of APS include the Israeli Defense Force's Trophy system, which intercepts approaching enemy fire with a "shotgun" like blast. The system has been integrated on Israeli Merkava main battle tanks. Another Israeli APS is called Iron Fist, a system made by Israeli Military Industries. The system uses an infrared detector to track approaching enemy fire and then fires an explosive projectile interceptor. The interceptor casing is made of combustible materials so no fragmentation is formed.

Additional foreign APS examples include a German firms' AMAP-ADS hard-kill system and a Russian system called Drozd, to list a few among many. South Korea and Sweden are also reported to have APS technologies.

One of the challenges when it comes to maturing designs and solution for APS is thinking carefully about how and where the intercept occurs, Miller explained.

For example, a collision or intercept of an incoming projectile can cause fragmentation, shrapnel or a small explosion, creating a need to have the right protocol to ensure personnel are not in the vicinity of a vehicle. Also, having a sense of these details can help planners establish the right amount of armor for a platform.

"Basically, you are launching an interceptor and you are going to meet up with a threat that is inbound into your platform. You are going to do something to cause that threat to be kicked out of the way or to self-explode," Miller said.  "However, if you cause a detonation beyond the range of your platform, you are still going to have shrapnel that is coming at you, so your platform needs some level of passive armor."

At the same time, the Army's APS research is looking at what's called "soft-kill" protection, meaning an ability to electronically jam, block or thwart an incoming threat without causing an explosion, Miller added.   Goure said the Army's thinking about "soft-kill," jamming and electronic intercepts is excellent thinking about technological trends and potential breakthroughs for the future.

"Most of the APS are variations of some kind of kinetic system. We are now at the stage where directed energy or electronic kills may be possible. That way, you don't have to blow things up in proximity to your own systems and people. Perhaps there will be a hit-to-kill laser system that emerges to counter an anti-armor guided missile?" Goure said.

At the same time, the Army is also researching and looking at "hard-kill" solutions, which use an interceptor to collide with and destroy enemy fire. The main thrust of the research is aimed at developing what Miller called a "common architecture," a set of technical standards aimed a creating a versatile technology that can be tailored to a given threat scenario.

"We're developing a common architecture with PEO GCS (Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems) and PEO CS & CSS (Program Executive Office Combat Support and Combat Service Support). We're trying to see from an S&T perspective if you can have a common base architecture that extends from tactical to combat vehicles," Miller said.

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