WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Army prepares to make key decisions in the near future on interim active protection system solutions for its fleet, Rheinmetall wants in.
The German company’s Active Defense System, or ADS, which has a solution extensively demonstrated in Europe on a variety of combat vehicles, incorporates distributed, low-powered microwave radar sensors that detect ballistic threats such as rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. Interceptors can then defeat the incoming threats as close as roughly 1 meter from the hull of the vehicle by disabling its main charge and minimizing an explosion, Stefan Hasse, Rheinmetall’s director of protection systems, told Defense News.
The Army has been working on interim active protection system, or APS, solutions for its Abrams tanks, Stryker combat vehicles and Bradley fighting vehicles for more than a year. The service has been looking at three different systems:
- Trophy, a Rafael Advanced Defense Systems combined hostile-fire detection and APS system, is expected to be chosen for the Abrams.
- Iron Fist, a system developed by IMI Systems and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems, is poised to be chosen as the solution for the Bradley.
- Iron Curtain, a U.S.-based offering from Artis Corporation, is being evaluated for the Stryker.
Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the program executive officer for Army combat vehicles, told a group of reporters at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, on Aug. 15, that the Army was very close to making a decision on whether to move forward with the integration of Trophy onto a brigade’s worth of Abrams.
However, Bassett said the Army was several months further behind with Stryker and Bradley, adding that the Stryker solution had just begun testing, and Bradley testing had yet to begin. For both vehicles, it’s believed to be more challenging to incorporate an APS system, and the solutions being evaluated are not yet fielded.
The question for Rheinmetall, which sees its solution as the best match for the Stryker, is whether funding and timing will allow it to even be considered.
The other three companies had been involved in discussions with the Army longer than Rheinmetall. Key decision-makers on the program didn’t get to see ADS in action through European-based demonstrations until negotiations were well underway to qualify other solutions.
And by the time the Army became aware of Rheinmetall’s progress with ADS, there was not enough funding to qualify a fourth solution.
Col. Glenn Dean, the project manager for the Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team, has said the service would like to look at other APS systems, such as Rheinmetall’s ADS, should funding become available.
The company is working to integrate ADS onto an eight-wheel drive vehicle similar to the Stryker, Haase said. The company in the summer of 2016 demonstrated the capability for Army representatives, including Dean.
“We see our system as one that could be more easily integrated maybe on the Stryker platform and already has demonstrated that its got the capability to defeat things like [anti-tank guided missiles],” Haase said. “It has got some capabilities that are maybe more proven than what they have seen from some of the other sources, so there is still potential there.”
Yet, he added, “I think definitely it’s a little more of a challenge when you don’t have that amount of funding going in. I guess it will just depend on how the other systems perform and whether they are able to find more funding for other integration work.”
Meanwhile, ADS continues to be put to the test for potential European customers. Rheinmetall conducted a live-fire demonstration on June 30 and July 1 in Sweden. The system went six-for-six against anti-tank guided missile threats, according to McCallum. “We had six full intercepts with zero residual penetration, very clean intercepts,” he said.
One major reason Rheinmetall believes the Army should work to include it in the nondevelopmental integration efforts is because its system is proof that a distributed APS solution works and offers a lower radius of danger, as opposed to launcher-based APS systems. Other systems will hit targets farther out but with less precision, so the result is a bigger blast and more shrapnel.
“I think the Army would definitely deserve to have another system on Stryker, which can then successfully demonstrate that,” Haase said.
McCallum added: “We are just hoping they are keeping an open mind and they are not too far down this path that they are limiting themselves.”
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.