CORRECTION — The laser warning system the Army selected for its Vehicle Protection System is from Danbury Mission Technologies, which was spun off from Collins Aerospace.
WASHINGTON — The Army has encountered technical problems and funding gaps in its effort to field an active protection system on the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle — but service officials say they’re now moving forward.
The Iron Fist system has completed the majority of required testing, Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, the program executive officer for Army ground combat systems, told Defense News in an interview before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual expo.
“There’s a little bit left to go and then some integration work, but we’re essentially reaching the point where we’re just waiting for resources, whether Army or congressionally-provided, to proceed into procurement,” he said.
Iron Fist was developed by IMI Systems. Elbit Systems, which bought IMI, partnered with General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems to integrate the system to serve as an interim active protection system for the Bradley.
The system is meant to provide the Bradley with active protection from rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank guided missiles and other threats. The Army Requirements Oversight Council in November 2018 opted to field one brigade by the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020.
In 2016, the Army determined it needed an interim APS solution for the Abrams, Stryker combat vehicle and Bradley fighting vehicle and decided to rapidly assess off-the-shelf APS systems to fulfill an urgent operational need.
The Army has already fielded the Rafael-developed Trophy APS system on Abrams tanks. Those have been operating in the European theater over the last year.
Despite the AROC decision, the Bradley couldn’t supply enough power to the launcher system and the Iron Fist experienced counter-munitions dudding in testing. Those issues delayed the program by roughly a year.
In earlier testing, “we had some issues with Iron Fist, mostly maturity issues, and it’s centered around power within the Iron Fist system itself and a problem with the ignition train within the interceptor,” Tim Neaves, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems senior business development director, told Defense News in an interview this month.
Coming out of those tests, Neaves said, the company worked with the Army to put together a corrective action path, which included internal investment to continue development and tests. The company has executed on that path for the last 18 months.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve demonstrated that we have fixed those issues, and we’ve gotten a significant maturity level and performance demonstration within the system,” putting the system up against roughly 400 threats including single and dual-warheads, anti-tank guided missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifles, Neaves said.
The company successfully tested defeating near simultaneous threats “on the same shot line,” he added. The system achieved about 90 percent intercept reliability and “very low post-intercept residuals.”
Iron Fist is now moving into final qualification testing, which is slated to begin in mid-October. The testing will run through the second quarter of fiscal 2022, according to Neaves, followed by a limited user test in the third quarter of FY22.
At the same time, engineering and manufacturing development efforts will continue through FY22 with production slated to begin in FY23, he added.
If Iron Fist performs as expected, it must then receive funding. The Army had enough money to get through qualification testing using FY21 dollars, but the money needed in FY22 was not included in the Army’s budget. It instead landed on the unfunded requirements list the service sent to Congress, which includes items the Army would buy if it had more money.
As of now, the House and Senate armed services committees have approved additional funding needed for the program — roughly $16 million — in their versions of the FY22 defense policy bill. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to release its detailed markup.
Should the Army not receive the funding through a congressional plus-up when the FY22 budget is passed, the service could consider other options, such as a reprogramming.
Road to an enduring capability
Meanwhile, the Army is farther behind in fielding an interim APS for Stryker combat vehicles.
The service originally considered Herndon, Virginia-based Artis’ Iron Curtain APS for Stryker, but decided in August 2018 not to move forward with the system. Then the Army evaluated two other active protection systems and “didn’t find anything conclusive,” Dean said.
“That effort is on hold now just pending additional resources to continue testing,” he said.
In addition to nearing the completion of fielding the Trophy APS systems on Abrams tanks, Dean said, the Army is also making progress with a future vehicle protection system intended as an enduring system for combat vehicles.
The Army held a rodeo with multiple vendors earlier this year for a laser warning capability for the system and selected Danbury Mission Technologies’ AN/VVR-4 Laser Detecting Set in February. Danbury Mission Technologies was part of Collins Aerospace but was spun-off during the United Technologies Corporation and Raytheon merger.
The laser warning capability is the first to be integrated with the Army’s common interface and controller, which Lockheed Martin is developing after winning a contract in February.
Now the Army is working to first integrate its modular APS system into Bradley, Dean said, and will attempt to go into production in FY22 if the Army gets the funding it sought.
The system with the laser warning receiver will also be integrated into Abrams as part of the SEP V4 upgrade program, Dean noted, and, while it’s not resourced yet, the Army is looking at the possibility of integrating the capability into the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle.
The capabilities that will be integrated into the Army’s VPS system are “predecisional,” Dean said, but the system will include a range of options to include other threat warning sensors as well as soft and hard kill active protection.
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.