As armed forces, particularly within the NATO Alliance, pivot towards conducting operations below the threshold of open conflict against near peer and peer adversaries, commanders are considering how best to protect main battle tanks and armoured vehicles.
With anti-armour and specifically anti-tank guided munitions growing in maturity and proliferating across the modern battlespace, capability to protect expensive assets on the ground has become critical with industry offering up a variety of solutions to satisfy emerging requirements.
In the UK, the Defence and Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and lead industry partner Leonardo are in the process of wrapping up the first phase of its ICARUS Technology Demonstration Programme which aims to design a Modular Integrated Protection System (MIPS) which allows any type of armoured vehicle to quickly integrate some kind of Active or Passive Protection System.
Speaking to the Arab Defence Journal, Ray Hopkins, head of MIPS at Leonardo, described how the programme “is still progressing” as it builds up to completion in August and DSTL considers how to move forward with a second phase.
“Thereafter, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are currently looking at how they progress into a future phase,” Hopkins described to ADJ. “The programme as a whole has been slightly delayed due to COVID. It had been due to finish in December 2020.
A second phase, which has yet to be confirmed by DSTL, is expected to be referred to as the “MIPS Maturation”, encompassing a “mnature control module so you could put it on a surrogate platform, Hopkins described before suggesting it could start by the end of the year.
ICARUS also features the support of Lockheed Martin, Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) partnership, Roke, SCISYS CGI and Ultra Electronics.
On 24 June, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems announced it had been selected to integrate its Trophy Active Protection System on board the British Army’s Challenger 3 main battle tank.
According to a statement provided to ADJ by Rafael, the company has been selected for the “next phase of detailed assessment and integration by the UK Ministry of Defence for the Army's Challenger 3 MBT.”
The MoD’s selection of Trophy followed a study into potential upgrades which was led by prime contractor Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL), which entailed detailed integration and system trials of Trophy MV- the lighter variant in the wider Trophy APS family which suits the particular requirements of Challenger 3.
“Developed by Rafael in response to successful anti-armor attacks, Trophy APS provides mature, combat-proven protection against rocket and missile threats and simultaneously locates the origin of the hostile fire for immediate response,” a company statement provided to ADJ read.
“Trophy is the only fully-integrated, combat-proven APS in the world and has been installed on Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava tanks since 2010, and has also been installed on the Namer [armoured personnel carriers]. Trophy has also been supplied to four US Army Abrams MBT brigades, and will soon be supplied to Germany for its Leopard MBT’s,” the company added.
According to Rafael, Trophy has made “numerous combat interceptions with no injuries to crews or dismounted troops or damage to platforms” since it was first operationally deployed back in 2011. Since then it has successfully completed more than a million operating hours across 5,400 field trials. More than 1,800 systems have been manufactured under contract.
David Farmer, Team Leader for the Challenger 3 delivery team at Defence, Equipment & Support, said in a statement: “I am delighted to welcome Rafael to our cohort of industry delivery partners who are working together to bring Challenger 3 to life. This is a significant programme for Defence, and the British Army and represents a huge shift in the modernisation of our land forces. The pioneering new technology that we are planning to use will allow us to deliver an immense warfighting capability.”
Rafael’s Trophy family of solutions including Heavy Vehicle (HV) and Light Vehicle (LV) variants, both of which create a “neutralisation bubble” around an armoured vehicle and providing the capability to “rapidly detect, classify and engage all known chemical energy (CE) threats – including recoilless rifles, ATGMs, AT rockets, HEAT tank rounds, and RPGs”.
“Trophy can locate the fire source, enabling the crew to return fire effectively with the Samson 30 RWS, or by interfacing with other fighting platforms via the BMS network,” a Rafael spokesperson confirmed to ADJ.
According to defence sources, there was only one alternative active protection system which was mature enough to undergo evaluation with the Challenger 3- Elbit Systems' Iron Fist.
Comprising a family of active protection systems, Iron Fist is promoted by the Israeli company as protecting armoured vehicles against the “full spectrum of anti-tank threats”.
“The Iron Fist series includes a light configuration for armored fighting vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and logistic vehicles and a heavier configuration for main battle tanks. The solutions provide interception of anti-tank threats by precise-detection technologies and capabilities to detect, identify, classify the threat, and respond to hostile fire threats in various engagement scenarios, all without endangering the operators or harming the defending platforms,” Elbit literature explained.
Essentially, a sensor suite uses radar and optics to detect a threat with “negligible” false alarms, Elbit officials claimed.
“It automatically detects and identifies a broad range of hostile anti-tank threats including short range RPGs, recoilless rifled ammunition, and ATGMs, while the heavier configuration also handles tank rounds such as HEAT and KE. The sensor suite can handle simultaneous, multi-threat scenarios and provides the crew with accurate counter attack capabilities against the launching source,” it was added.
To neutralise a threat, Iron Fist deploy a blast interceptor featuring a small warhead which is
initiated at a “safe distance" from the defending platform.
“This counters the threat by producing a shock-wave effect at a precisely calculated location and time. This results in the destruction of the threat without initiation of its warhead and the creation of a jet formation with minimal residual effects,” Elbit literature added.
Finally, Iron Fist can be integrated with legacy battle management systems, fire control systems and Elbit Systems’ proprietary ‘see through armour’ solution known as ‘Iron Vision’.
“Iron Fist does not impede or limit the range of operations of these critical systems, and effectively augments their functionality. The sensor suite enhances the platform’s situational awareness capabilities, while providing 360° day/night surveillance sight and hostile fire detection (HFD) from its sensors up to gunshot fire and small arms bursts detection,” a company statement concluded.
Finally, armed forces are also beginning to benefit from the introduction of Passive Protection Systems which unlike their Active Protection counterparts, do not require kinetic effects to neutralise a threat.
Examples include Rheinmetall Defence’s multi-spectral Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY) “produces within one second an instantaneous, large-area, multispectral interruption of the line of sight that shields even moving vehicles with a dynamic, long-lasting smoke screen,” according to company literature.
Company officials described to ADJ how ROSY could protect armoured vehicles from conventional weapons and weapons with optical devices and laser distance measurement,” it was added.
Rheinmetall has also developed an ISS variant which includes a sensor suite featuring
a Laser Radar Warner; Thermal Imaging TV; GPS; Anemometer; and Acoustic measurement device. Solutions are manipulated by a manual control unit.