Armies around the world have been spending a ton of time and money trying to figure out how to keep their fighting vehicles, trucks, and personnel carriers safe. Better armor is one answer. Another is to stop attacks before they ever hit.
Several of these so-called “active protection” systems are making progress, both here and in Israel. Generally speaking, they all work in the same way, Defense News‘ Barbara Opall-Rome notes:
A radar detects and identifies an approaching threat.
Target information is transferred to a kill mechanism.
The kill mechanism destroys the target at a safe distance from the vehicle.
A few weeks back, Trophy, an Israeli active protection set-up, went through its first tests on an American Stryker vehicle. It’s already being used to protect Israeli tanks against rocket-propelled grenades.
[In a] Feb. 28 test… two inert RPGs were fired simultaneously; one would hit the Stryker while the other was intentionally aimed for a near miss Trophy was able to track the trajectory, discriminate among the two parallel targets, and determine which one would actually hit the Stryker before selectively unleashing its lethal countermeasures. The actual method used to destroy the targets is classified.
The Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation is planning on using Trophy on its Project Sheriff vehicles — those experimental personnel carriers, armed with pain rays and sonic blasters.
Meanwhile, the Army is pursuing its own active protection plans. Its Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center has been test-firing a system which blasts incoming RPGs with foot-long fragmentation rounds. Raytheon has just been handed a $70 million contract to actively protect the Army’s next-generation combat vehicles. Last month, the company successfully demonstrated its “Quick Kill” RPG-stopper, eDefense notes.
The precision-launched weapon employs a technique called “soft launch,” whereby it launches vertically from the vehicle, pitches over, and is propelled by its rocket motor to the point of intercept with the RPG, at which point it fires its warhead. This method provides a combat vehicle with full hemispheric protection from a single system, rather than placing a number of them around the sides of the vehicle. It also avoids the concussion and stress that a more traditional launch method would put on the vehicle.
In addition, a vehicle equipped with the Quick Kill system would typically carry eight to 16 such rounds that could be launched in a salvo to counter multiple RPG attacks.
There are other, more exotic active protection approaches, too. Army-funded researchers recently filed a patent to stop attacks with parachutes. The Brits think they can stop RPGs with massive electrical charges. And a Navy-backed company, Aoptix Technologies, wants to “apply… high energy light based weapons” to keep RPGs from landing.
UPDATE 03/15/06 11:50 AM: “Lightly armored vehicles such as the Humvee are unlikely ever to get [Quick Kill-style] defenses,” says Defense News‘ Greg Grant. “The blast pressures generated when the incoming warhead detonates would buckle lightly armored vehicles.”
For lighter vehicles, an innovative air bag system is in development, Army sources said, called the Tactical Vehicle RPG Air-bag Protection System, or TRAPS. Made from the same material in automotive air bags, they detonate incoming RPGs at a distance from the vehicle and cushion the blast.
The air-bag defense is in its final test stages this week, and could begin production later this year.
Nadeau said its tough to develop an active-armor system that can be used around dismounted soldiers or innocent civilians. The hard-kill defensive warheads launched by the vehicle resemble huge shotgun blasts to shred incoming projectiles, and would prove highly lethal to anybody nearby.
When you put it on a vehicle that is going to be around dismounted soldiers, you have to have the ability to turn quadrants on and off, to avoid the collateral damage, Nadeau said.