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Are active protection systems about to have their day?

Jun. 20, 2013 - 05:36PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Over the past several years, American MRAPs, M-ATVs and Strykers in Afghanistan and Iraq have fattened up, growing wider and heavier with metal grates and large netting systems bolted onto already burdened chassis, all to fend off rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks.

While the threat from buried roadside bombs has been the No. 1 killer of U.S. and coalition troops in this past decade’s two wars, RPGs and explosively formed penetrators have also done their share of damage.

In future conflicts, American defense planners expect to face not only these threats, but weapons such as anti-tank missiles and kinetic energy rounds from more advanced enemies. To meet those threats without bolting thousands of pounds of equipment onto their vehicles, the Army has made installing a “hard kill” active protection system (APS) on its Ground Combat Vehicle a key requirement.

BAE Systems and General Dynamics are the two companies left standing in the GCV competition. On May 29, General Dynamics announced that it had concluded a successful critical design review on its APS effort, and is planning to mount it on a Light Armored Vehicle III demonstrator this year.

After doing a study on APS technologies for the Army several years ago, Sonya Sepahban, GD Land Systems’ senior vice president for engineering, development and technology, said, “we went out and selected one” to begin testing.

While she would not disclose any specifics on the APS — a source close to the competition suggests that it is a Raytheon product — Sepahban did say that GD is tapping “one of the more mature systems that is out there” and is integrating it onto the LAV.

“We’re pretty much done with the integration,” she said, adding that “We believe the next step is to get one of these systems through a safety board.”

The company chose the LAV for its first integration exercise because of the vehicle’s complexity and the limited space available on it. “If you can do it on a LAV, you ought to be able to do it on larger and heavier systems” like the GCV, she said.

But it won’t be easy.

A November Congressional Budget Office report about technical challenges for the GCV concluded that “the basic physics and engineering of active protective defense is a challenge. That challenge is multiplied by the possibility that the enemy may adopt tactics or defense suppression measures to neutralize the effectiveness of the active protective system.”

On April 29, the manufacturer of the APS that BAE Systems is putting on its GCV issued a statement saying that its Iron Curtain system defeated every round shot at it in a US government test.

A person close to the test program told Defense News that the shots were part of a “major test event for the GCV.”

While Keith Brendley, the president of Herndon, Va.’s Artis LLC, declined to say how many shots were fired, he did say that there were “enough to establish reasonable statistical confidence.”

The Iron Curtain is mounted on top of the vehicle, and using C-band radar, detects the incoming round, tracking it until a sensor selects which countermeasure to fire once the target gets in close. From a rack installed along the top of the vehicle, the countermeasure fires straight down, detonating the rocket or missile.

In 2012, Artis also demonstrated the capability for the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected Vehicles.

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