WASHINGTON —The only U.S.-based Active Protection System solution for Army combat vehicles is in the midst of government testing, according to the company’s president.
Herndon, Virginia-based Artis LLC’s Iron Curtain was selected by the Army to be qualified as an interim solution for the service’s Stryker combat vehicle roughly a year ago, Keith Brendley told Defense News in an Oct. 3 interview.
The Army determined it needed APS solutions to fill an immediate need while it develops its Modular Active Protection System (MAPS). The service quickly selected three vendors to supply commercially available APS systems to qualify them on its fleet of combat vehicles.
Israel’s Rafael was picked to supply its Trophy APS system, already deployed with the Israeli military, for the Abrams tank and another Israeli company IMI is supplying its Iron Fist for the Bradley fighting vehicle.
The Army recently made a decision to field the Trophy system on a brigade’s worth of Abrams that will be deployed to Europe.
Qualifying APS systems on the other two vehicles are behind the Abrams because of funding availability.
While the Bradley solution is farthest behind because the vehicle is the most challenging when it comes to adding systems onto the platform, Stryker with Iron Curtain has moved into the governmental characterization phase.
The Bradley team is still in the process of tuning the system on the vehicle and is moving through contractor testing.
Iron Curtain’s contractor testing “went very well and the evidence of that is we are proceeding on to government testing,” Brendley said, adding the testing has been ongoing for a month.
Brendley said, so far, the government testing has gone “very well” and a decision on a way forward by the Army Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) will likely happen early next year.
There is one Iron Curtain-clad Stryker at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and one at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
Artis was founded by Brendley in 1999 along with two other scientists as well as a few additional people. Artis was initially an acronym that stood for Advanced Real Time Information Systems.
“The concept was we saw that the technology for computation, people talk a lot about how computers can do more and more complex things from artificial intelligence to robotics, but there is a corollary to that and that is they can also do things much, much, much more quickly,” Brendley said.
“So you are essentially compressing in time what is possible to do,” he said, so given the nature of how an APS system works, “where microseconds and sometimes even picoseconds matter, that is sort of natural progression for us.”
And for the Iron Curtain solution, which defeats threats very close into the vehicle, those picoseconds matter immensely.
Artis began developing APS in 2004 with a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called Slapshot and has been moving forward in development through various government programs and private funding ever since, according to Brendley.
Iron Curtain is “quite different” from the other two systems chosen for Abrams and Bradley, he said.
The system operates inches away from the vehicle while the other two solutions attack threats many meters out from the vehicle, Brendley explained.
Iron Curtain has the capability of knocking out a threat, using a countermeasure, in such a way it doesn’t have a chance to explode.
By defeating threats very close into the vehicle, “there is much less potential for collateral damage, collateral damage being harming people outside of the vehicle, being fellow soldiers or Marines or civilians,” Brendley said.
It’s also important to hit the threat at a very particular point because if the fuse is it hit close in to a vehicle, it would do roughly as much damage as a direct hit from a missile would on a lighter combat vehicle like a Stryker, Brendley noted.
Another big difference is that Iron Curtain is distributed around the vehicle, he said. “The advantage of that is you don’t have weight imbalances on any given part of the vehicle like the turret … and it’s easier in some ways to integrate because of that.”
And the system is “highly modular” as the pieces -- called APS legos -- are snapped together around the vehicle in whatever desired shape, Brendley said.
“Basically you use the exact same legos, if you will, whether it’s a Humvee or a Stryker or a [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle] or Bradley or whatever it is and since the cost and weight will vary with the numbers of legos that you have and the lighter less expensive vehicles tend to be smaller,” Brendley said, “you get almost a natural relationship between cost, weight and the size of the platform.”
In anticipation of a contract award, the company has established a manufacturing plan mostly centered around outsourcing.
Orbital ATK will build the counter-munitions for Iron Curtain and the company is also purchasing radars because it doesn’t design or develop radars itself.
Final manufacturing of the system will be conducted by Leesburg, Virginia-based Electronic Instrumentation and Technology LLC (EIT).
“We have the process in place, we have gone through an Army Manufacturing Readiness Review, so we are a long ways down the pike on that,” Brendley said.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.