Despite years of evaluation, tests and budget documents calling for its deployment to Afghanistan, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have yet to field an active protection system (APS) on their combat vehicles.
And it remains unclear when it will happen, even though the Army appeared ready last year to send a system to Afghanistan that zaps rockets before they can strike a vehicle.
Keith Brendley, president of Herndon, Va.’s Artis LLC, maker of the Iron Curtain APS, said despite a spate of government tests in the past few years on the vehicle-mounted counter-rocket system, “there’s really no pull on the user side, so the technology is there, it’s ready, it’s more or less sitting on the shelf.”
This is how the system works: A vehicle-mounted C-band radar detects the incoming round, tracking it until a distributed optical 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 before it can hit the vehicle.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded the development of Iron Curtain. It’s been tested on Humvees, and last summer, Artis demonstrated the technology for the Pentagon’s Joint Program Office for Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected Vehicles.
The company was waiting for the Joint Program Office to decide whether it would proceed to the next round of testing, but the office was dissolved and parceled out to the services in September. No decision is expected until the reorganization is settled, Brendley said.
Despite these frustrations, Artis signed on with BAE Systems to join its Ground Combat Vehicle offering.
“We’re watching the market in a lot of other areas, like Joint Light Tactical Vehicle,” another Pentagon program, he said. “But there’s really nothing for us to respond to until there’s some kind of user pull for the threats that we address. In the U.S., there really isn’t much of a demand for these kinds of protection technologies right now.”
Israel has fielded the Trophy APS made by Rafael, which successfully engaged a rocket fired by a militant near Gaza in March 2011.
In March, Israeli ballistic armor maker Plasan obtained a controlling interest in Artis in a deal estimated to be worth $60 million to $70 million. But Brendley said that while his company has been talking to the Israeli government about Iron Curtain, the acquisition by Plasan has more to do with the burgeoning worldwide market than with a planned Israeli APS competition.