So Much for "Force Fields"


A few weeks back, buzz was building, fast, for Trophy, an Israeli "active protection" system that stops rocket-propelled grenades in mid-air. At the Naval Surface Warfare Center, demonstrations of the vehicle-mounted defender a went well, with the Trophy's four radars picking out out RPG threats, and firing a kind of buckshot at the incoming shells. In Israel and here in the States, test vehicles were getting equipped. Fox News got so fired up, it declared Trophy to be a "top secret... futuristic force field." Which lead some commenters on the lunatic fringe to cheer for the new "barrier of invisible energy fragments (perhaps light particles charged by lasers)."trophy-seequence2.jpgBut all the heavy-breathing didn't help the system, in the end. "The Army is passing up [on Trophy] ... to pursue an alternative system that wont be fielded until 2010 or later," Defense News ace Greg Grant reports.The Army won't say why, exactly -- only that "the issue with any [active] armor protection system is the 60 percent solution is not acceptable," says Maj. Gen. Roger Nadeau. But here's a guess: What happens when Trophy confuses a kid with a rock and an RPG-carrying insurgent? How does that look on Al-Jazeera?The free-thinkers at the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation -- the folks who sponsored the Trophy trials, and who are planting the system on their experimental Project Sheriff vehicles -- have an alternate theory, however. The Army, in their view, is worried that Project Sherriff and Trophy might compete with its massive vehicle modernization program, Future Combat Systems.

The Army knew about Trophy some 60 officers and FCS officials visited Israel for briefings, but not a single one asked for more information on the system. The OFT stumbled onto the system last summer and immediately moved to negotiate a government-to-government technology agreement allowing American officers unprecedented access to all the top-secret data on the system...In fact, Army acquisition officials are lobbying [higher-up Pentagon] officials to allow the service to remove the active protection system and the millimeter-wave active denial [pain ray] systems that are at the heart of the [Project Sherriff] vehicle.
"Instead, the Army wants to field a Sheriff that eschews the active armor system for slat armor," Grant notes. And that's a big problem. Because insurgents in Iraq have started using a new, powerful RPG that shreds the cage-like defense.
The RPG-29... packs two shaped-charge warheads: a small one to blow up the reactive armor or blow through the slats, clearing a path for a larger charge to strike the vehicles hull. [The weapon] poses such a threat to American armor that the U.S. military has refused to allow the newly formed Iraqi Army to buy them, fearing they will fall into the wrong hands, the top Iraqi ground-forces general told The New York Times last August.There is only one currently available active armor system designed to defeat RPGs: Israels Trophy system, according to OFT officials.
UPDATE 12:55 PM: Last week's Inside Defense had more on the Army's active protection reservations. "It is not just about giving [soldiers] an APS system. How do the soldiers work with it? How does it tie into the network? How do you know when to turn it on? When not to turn it on?" said Future Combat Systems program manager Brig. Gen. Charles Cartwright. "We could put something over there . . . overnight but have I got the logistics to be able to support," the technology.
In recent months, service officials -- not directly involved in the development of APS technologies -- have warned against waiting for a 100 percent solution. During a March 28 Institute for Defense and Government Advancement defense acquisition symposium, Edward Bair -- the Armys program executive officer for intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors -- spoke in detail about how acquisition reform could better support the warfighter. Included in Bairs presentation was the term "Good Enuf," at which time he explained that good enough today is better than optimum five years from now.
UPDATE 1:09 PM: Alabama National Guard LT and missile defense engineer Jimmy Wu says some of the Army's hesitancy is legit. But only some.
The cloud of projectiles from the active protection system is bound to hit people in addition to its target RPG. In addition, in an urban fight, the RPG gunners will try to get inside the minimum range of a Trophy system such that it does not have the time to shoot down the RPG.On the other hand, there are situations where the Trophy is useful. For example, during the approach march [eg, highway convoys], where everyone is under armor, the Trophy will minimize losses from an RPG ambush.Both sides have merit. However, if I was deciding, I would deploy the Trophy. By adding an off switch, the Trophy operator can turn off the system when there are many people outside the vehicle. Training is not a big factor because the small fleet deployed is too small to cause future training problems. Supply should not be an issue either because of the small fleet. We need to encourage experimentation on the battlefield instead of quashing initiatives like the Sheriff.
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