It was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2008, but Raytheon’s Active Protection System (APS), formerly known as "Quick Kill," was nowhere to be found on the floor of the Washington Convention Center at the Army’s annual conference this week. I asked the Raytheon folks about its status and the best they could come up with was that the program is “maturing”; there was no APS on display nor were there videos showing field tests of the system.
By contrast, over at the Israeli Military Industries booth, the Israelis were showing video of their “Iron Fist” APS in action and displayed the launcher, jammer, interceptor round, radar and infra-red sensors. IMI’s Rami Sokolower, director of business development, proudly told me Iron Fist was recently chosen by the Israeli Defense Forces to outfit the “Namer” heavy infantry fighting vehicle, a personnel carrier based on the Merkava tank chassis, some 600 of which are in IDF service.
From personal observation, U.S. government officials from one of the nation’s larger arsenals were clearly interested in Iron Fist and were engaged in lengthy conversation with the retired Israeli generals at the IMI booth.
APS is designed to automatically detect incoming rounds, such as RPGs, larger anti-tank guided missiles and even high velocity sabot rounds, and then launch a projectile to intercept and either destroy or deflect the round. Raytheon was building Quick Kill as part of the Army’s FCS program. It was a key part of providing survivability to the FCS vehicles which were intended to be thinly armored and lightweight, compared to other armored fighting vehicles.
Quick Kill was a “hard kill” APS. That is, it shoots out a projectile that detonates above the incoming round and shreds it with buckshot, akin to a large shotgun shell. It used Raytheon’s Multi-Function Radio Frequency AESA radar to provide 360 degree detection of incoming rounds. Raytheon says it went through design verification tests in 2008 when it intercepted stationary and moving platforms.
The Army has been rather silent on APS in recent years. Sources I talked to in OSD, and from other services, said the more elaborate APS system under development for FCS ran into development problems and the Army began looking for simpler solutions. The survivability of the FCS manned ground vehicles was already an issue; the failure of an APS to show real promise only added to the program’s many problems.
IMI’s Iron Fist is also classified as a hard kill - although it includes soft kill electro-optical jammers - but instead of using shrapnel to shred an incoming round it relies on blast pressure waves to deflect and break apart the round, resulting in less collateral damage and making it much safer for troops that might be accompanying the Namer on foot, said Sokolower. The laser jammer is said to be effective against second generation anti-tank guided missiles.
I’ve always been skeptical of APS manufacturer claims that they can intercept a 120mm sabot round, as the velocity of those rounds is so high. Sokolower said the Iron Fist’s blast wave will deflect the long-rod penetrator just enough so that it “yaws” and thus hits the vehicle at a poor angle and won’t completely penetrate thick steel armor. The Iron Fist’s APS rounds are carried in twin launchers fitted to each side of a vehicle linked to RF and passive Infrared sensors which the company claims provides full 360 degree protection.
IMI will have a chance to demonstrate Iron Fist to the U.S. customer during OSD sponsored APS tests to be held next summer. Raytheon is supposed to provide their APS for the tests as well.
The Israeli company is also marketing a man-portable soft kill APS-type device for use by dismounted troops. During the 2006 Lebanon war, Hezbollah used heavy anti-tank guided missiles, such as the Russian built Kornet and older Sagger, as portable artillery and caused serious casualties to Israeli soldiers sheltered in buildings. The tripod mounted “Shock Absorber” carries a laser jammer to counter second generation anti-tank missiles. It’s another example of technologies and weapons designed for the predominantly infantry fights of future wars.