US Army Is Fitting Tanks With Missile Defense Systems

Cathy He
By Cathy He
March 2, 2018US News
US Army Is Fitting Tanks With Missile Defense Systems
U.S. Marines perform permission checks on an M1A1 Abrams Tank in Camp Fallujah, Iraq, Jan. 21, 2007. (US Marine Corps via Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Army is in the process of upgrading its main battle tanks with a defense system that acts like an invisible shield against missiles and other threats.

In February this year, the Army announced it would upgrade 261 M1 Abrams tanks—enough for three brigades—with an active protection system made by Israeli company Rafael, known as Trophy.

According to Breaking Defense, an active protection system is essentially a “miniaturized missile defense system for tanks.” In the case of the Trophy system, it works by first detecting an incoming missile with radar, then intercepting and destroying the threat with a shotgun-like blast, said the War Zone blog from the auto news site The Drive.

Israel has used Trophy in its Merkava main battle tanks for almost a decade, including in combat conditions. The system played a critical role during the 2014 Israel intervention into the Gaza Strip, where no Merkava’s were said to have suffered any damage during the three-week ground operation, reported the War Zone.

The U.S. Army’s adoption of the Trophy active protection system is just one of a package of measures aimed at modernizing the military. According to Breaking Defense, the Army is currently in the process of reorienting from its counterinsurgency-era focus, which emphasized light infantry and aircraft toward responding to threats from other nation-states, in particular Russia.

The installation of the Trophy system would bring the United States in step with Russia that has long held this capability. Fox News reported that Russia has been on an aggressive program upgrading its tanks with active protection systems. Its machinery has also been fitted with anti-armor weaponry strong enough to damage a targeted tank’s armor and destroy it.

Active protection systems provide 360-degree protection around tanks, creating something similar to a protective bubble, said Fox. After a threat, such as a missile, is detected and located by radar, the system deploys a countermeasure to destroy it.

While the typical countermeasure is in the form of a launcher that fires neutralizing shots against the incoming projectile, another invisible type of countermeasure is currently being developed. Fox reported that electromagnetic signals can be transmitted to interfere with an incoming missile’s guidance system, preventing it from reaching the targeted tank.

One major concern arising from the use of this system is the risk it poses to people in the tank’s battle-space. Civilians or soldiers situated nearby a tank may become collateral damage when shots are fired to neutralize a threat. This was the main reason why the United States and other Western countries had been reluctant to carry this kind of technology, according to Breaking Defense.

“In the West, we have to take care of things that the Russians don’t worry about quite as much,” German arms maker Rheinmetall spokesman, Geoff Revill, told Breaking Defense. “We care about our blue [friendly] forces, we care about civilians in an urban environment.”

The United States only started testing active protection systems for its tanks in 2016, after two decades of institutional ambivalence, said Breaking Defense.

During tests, the Army has been focused on investigating and resolving these safety concerns, before it moves forward to equip its M1 main battle tanks on a large scale, reported Fox.


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