Army airframes will soon be receiving improved, lighter ballistic protection, according to Redstone Arsenal,. Developed by the Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), the new armor will increase protection while significantly reducing weight.
The recently developed Ballistic Protection System (BPS) was designed specifically to improve the survivability of helicopters, whose changing roles on the battlefield have them lingering in place for long periods of time. It is substantially different from more common armor.The major challenge to improving ballistic protection of aviation assets was doing so in the lightest, most compact means possible, according to Prototype Integration Facility (PIF) Program Management Supervisor Jeff Carr.
The development of new, lighter composite armor materials are what enabled the development of the PIF-enhanced BPS. Its development and implementation will provide aircraft with increased protection against ground fire, allowing them to remain on station longer in situations where their mobility has been significantly reduced.
Aircraft are most vulnerable when attack helicopters are tasked with providing air support to ground convoys, delivering troops via air assault or when CASEVAC missions bring a helicopter during a TIC.
Redstone Arsenal's PIF more often puts traditional steel armor on ground vehicles, however weight and space constraints of a helicopter forbid the use of "typical" armor on an air frame - the BPS from an HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weighs approximately 2,500lbs.
Fitting the new PIF-enhanced BPS to the CH-47 Chinook decreased its armor weight by one ton while increasing protection to both pilot and cargo areas. Once similarly equipped, the UH-60 Blackhawk will have its armor weight reduced by approximately 500 pounds. In addition to the obvious advantages for crew and materiel, such modifications provide additional benefit to range, load capacity and staying power.
An earlier version of PIF-enhanced BPS was utilized on the IA-407 (Iraqi Armed-407). The IA-407 is a tactical variant of the Bell 407 commissioned by the Department of State for the Iraqi government, several of which have now been delivered. The IA-407, an Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter project, was developed and managed by the Project Office for Armed Scout Helicopters. The 407's size made providing protection for the crew problematic, making a lighter, less cumbersome armor system even more necessary.
Currently, the enhanced BPS is being fabricated and installed on CH-47 and UH-60s; a Technical Data Package will be made available to the UH-60 Program Management Office to competition for future BPS acquisitions. Though the update from Redstone Arsenal specifically mentions the convoy support role of attack helicopters such as the AH-64, no mention was made of when the Apache will be upgraded.
"The PIF continues to design, develop, and install new and improved ballistic protection on aviation and ground systems," Carr said. "Their design capabilities, machine shop and advanced composites lab provide an extraordinary capability to create custom formed material BPS."