WASHINGTON — The Army has decided to evaluate two Active Protection Systems at a November live-fire rodeo to determine if either system would work as an interim solution for one of its combat vehicles.
Israeli company Rafael’s Trophy VPS, a lighter version of the Trophy system that’s serving as the interim protection solution for the Abrams tank, and Germany-based Rheinmetall’s Active Defense System will have a chance to show the Army capabilities that could go on a Stryker or, potentially, another system, Col. Glenn Dean, program manager for APS and the Stryker combat vehicle, told Defense News.
Rafael just tested the Trophy VPS system on a Bradley in Israel in August; U.S. Army representatives were present at the demonstration.
Rheinmetall has partnered with Unified Business Technologies, based in Michigan, to bring the German system to the States. Together, they have given the system an American name: StrikeShield.
If selected, UBT would build the entire system in the U.S, according to the company’s CEO Michelle D’Souza.
The Army issued a solicitation asking for alternative APS solutions to protect the Stryker from incoming projectiles at close ranges, and several companies threw their hats in the ring.
Originally, the service had five or six interested participants, but, ultimately, just the two systems were deemed fully ready for a rodeo, according to Dean.
The Army determined it needed APS solutions to fill an immediate need while it develops its Modular Active Protection System and suite of Vehicle Protection Systems.
The service selected three vendors to supply commercially available APS systems to qualify them on its fleet of combat vehicles.
Israel’s Rafael was picked up to supply its Trophy APS system, already deployed with the Israeli military, for the Abrams tank. Another Israeli company, IMI, is supplying its Iron Fist for qualification on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Herndon, Virginia-based Artis LLC’s Iron Curtain was selected by the Army to be qualified as an interim solution for Stryker, but the Army decided in August not to proceed with the system.
The decision to evaluate a fourth system, possibly for Stryker, came before the Army decided not to move forward with Iron Curtain.
The service received a $25 million plus up from Congress in FY18 to qualify a fourth APS solution.
The Army chose Stryker as the target test asset at the rodeo because it has excess Stryker hulls to spare, but now that the service has decided not to proceed with Iron Curtain, the Army will more seriously consider solutions for the vehicle, according to Dean.
“We are not necessarily wedded to Stryker being the solution that we go forward on once we get past the initial screening evaluation,” Dean noted, because the Army wants to maintain flexibility.
Participants will not be performing a full installation of their systems on the vehicle. Instead, they will set up test rigs in front of Strykers or hang their system off a Stryker in the evaluation.
Following the rodeo, Dean said, the Army will select one, “possibly two, but certainly one,” to begin some sort of installation characterization on a platform deemed most appropriate for the APS system.
The Army still has not made a decision on whether it will select Iron Fist for Bradley, according to Dean.
The Army is expected to soon wrap up testing critical for the decision-making process, and Dean said he expects a decision on the way forward for Bradley by the end of the calendar year.
Some testing will continue as Army leadership mulls the decision, Dean said.
The testing for Bradley is still about eight months behind schedule, Dean said, attributing most of the delay to “front-end maturity” and integration problems, as well as problems on the range mostly driven by frequent thunderstorms over the summer in Alabama where the APS system was being evaluated.
The contractor was not ready with its system right away, Dean said, and then the Bradley was the most challenging vehicle for an APS installation due to its limitations with size, weight and power.
Dean offered some clarity on the maturity issues of Artis’ Iron Curtain system that led the service to decide against moving forward.
When measuring the system’s ability, the Army considered its independent performance and capability, the system’s ability to perform as installed on the platform, and whether the system was mature enough to support a rapid deployment.
“In the case for Iron Curtain, their base performance, that was pretty good,” Dean said. “They had a relatively high intercept rate. But we judged the suitability of the system combined with Stryker was poor.”
Dean described the maturity problems as being related to environmental performance, noting it had difficulty in the rain, as well as durability problems including an “extreme false alarm rate.”
He added, “those were engineering problems you would look at given time and additional testing,” and would consider for developmental programs.
This time the Army is not investing in developing any of the systems it wants for interim solutions. The investment the service was prepared to make was to characterize and install fully developed systems onto vehicle platforms.
The Army took some extra time to do this on the Abrams platform, for example, which did not involve any further development of Trophy as a system itself.
Even if Artis solved the maturity problem, Dean said, it didn’t solve the suitability for Stryker problem.
“Iron Curtain performed well during live-fire testing. The Army noted maturity issues, and Artis agrees, and believes those issues are relatively easy fixes and can be addressed within six months,” an Artis spokesperson told Defense News following the decision. “We believe this is a reasonable and responsible approach, since other systems have been afforded the opportunity to fix maturity problems.”
The spokesperson added, “If the Army needs an APS capable of fighting in urban areas, Iron Curtain offers the lowest collateral damage of any system on the market.”
While Artis may not be participating in the Army’s expedited APS program, Dean said data from the evaluation could feed into future APS efforts or could position Iron Curtain for another opportunity elsewhere.
Artis is being funded by the Army through a science and technology effort to defeat tank-fired munitions.
Dean noted that the Army is still only focused on expedited APS capability for Abrams, Stryker and Bradley, and not for other systems including the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, but is keeping vehicles like AMPV in mind for its future MAPS and VPS efforts.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.