WASHINGTON — Iron Fist — a system developed by IMI Systems (formerly Israel Military Industries) and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems that has flown under the radar — is poised to be chosen as the interim active protection system solution for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The U.S. Army is expected to make initial fielding decisions later this year for the interim APS for the Abrams tank as well as the Stryker and Bradley combat vehicles.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems' Trophy — the other Israeli APS system being tested by the U.S. Army as an interim solution for the Abrams — is fielded by the Israeli military and has subsequently received more attention as the U.S. Army urgently weighs its APS options in light of recent displays of force by adversaries.
Iron Fist's collaborators have stayed relatively quiet about its solution, but as the Army grows closer to making major decisions on the way forward, more details surrounding the system's capability are emerging.
Kevin Sims, General Dynamics' senior director of business development of munitions, armaments and platform systems, told Defense News that Iron Fist Light is not the same system that lost out to Trophy in an Israeli competition for APS roughly 10 years ago.
Essentially the only thing that has stayed the same, aside from the software algorithms that detect and identify incoming threats, is its name.
General Dynamics first partnered with IMI in 2011 after spending several years looking at how to get into the APS game, Sims said.
In 2009, GD began watching the Israeli competition between Rafael and IMI to field an APS system.
While Trophy won the Israeli competition, GD saw something special in IMI's technology and embarked on a partnership with the organization, moving far beyond the original Iron Fist in developing a lighter system with an open architecture that uses minimal power from the vehicle itself and a small-blast interceptor for minimal collateral damage.
While it hasn't been vocal about its development work, IMI and GD have secured a contract to integrate and test this APS technology onto Bradley Fighting Vehicles, as well as another contract to provide hardware for the common communicator element of the Army's future Modular Active Protection System.
The Army intends to rapidly install a range of matured and improved commercial APS solutions across the ground combat portfolio to reduce both acquisition and operational risk and quickly field solutions.
The service plans to wrap up testing and then make decisions on the right solutions this fall. It’s the worst-kept secret that Trophy will likely be chosen for the Abrams, possibly U.S.-based Artis, LLC's Iron Curtain for Stryker and Iron Fist for Bradley.
Bradley is considered to be the most challenging vehicle on which to characterize an APS system. It has a lot of different sensor and weapons systems on its roof, all of which are competing for power and bandwidth.
"Bradley is the most restrictive of those three platforms today, and so it is a really perfect, natural fit for the Iron Fist solution. It’s smaller than the competition, it’s lighter than the competition and it has a lower profile than the competition," Sims said.
Iron Fist Light is designed to be integrated onto a wide variety of combat vehicles from tanks all the way down to small ground mobility vehicles, Sims said, adding that the company has invested a great deal internally to make the system platform agnostic.
For IMI and GD’s developers, another important capability is to defeat a wide variety of munitions in close-range urban environments; therefore, a solution that has minimal collateral damage is imperative, Sims said.
The APS system is designed to always scan for threats and make an immediate detection, slew to the incoming threat, and in microseconds take it out far from the vehicle.
A shock wave from the interceptor causes the threat target to break apart in the air but not explode.
But Iron Fist’s interceptor can also choose how it takes out a threat.
"We can actually differentiate in the system to where we want to hit the target; if it’s an incoming [rocket propelled grenade], if we want to hit it toward the front or to the rear to disable the flight pattern, and basically we want the warhead to stay in tact," Sims said.
Additionally, there isn't a toxic back blow of fumes to worry about when a combat vehicle is operating with an open hatch.
GD and IMI are also working to expand the capabilities developed under the APS efforts. Taking the Iron Fist Light configuration, for example, they have developed a system called Bright Arrow that incorporates a machine gun and remote weapons station capabilities that can detect the exact direction of hostile fire and immediately engage the threat.
Iron Fist’s sensor package also has the ability to detect and counter unmanned aircraft system threats, Sims said.
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.