Following a long uphill battle, Elbit Systems’ APS is gaining traction.
Israel’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced recently the selection of Elbit Systems’ IRON FIST Active Protection System (APS) for the protection of some of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) combat support armoured vehicles. The selection followed a competitive evaluation of several APS solutions. The MoD selected a new variant of the IRON FIST known as the Light-Decoupled (IF-LD) version, a decoupled configuration that evolved from the first generation IRON FIST originally developed by IMI in competition to Rafael’s TROPHY APS. TROPHY is currently installed on Israel’s MERKAVA Mk4 and Mk3 Main Battle Tanks and various other variants of the NAMER heavy infantry fighting vehicle.
Following the selection, the IDF will receive the IF-LD for its Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers and 8×8 EITAN armoured fighting vehicles. The IDF plans to buy several hundred APS systems worth hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade. The tender process evaluated bids based on technical and financial aspects regarding the operational requirements for such solutions that differ from those that guided the selection of the first generation of TROPHY APS, inducted into service in 2011. The TROPHY APS proved its value during the 2014 ‘Pillar of Defence’ operation in the Gaza Strip and procurement is ongoing to equip all of the newly produced MERKAVA and NAMER vehicles as well as some of the MERKAVA 3 and 4 tanks currently in service.
Following their impressive combat debut, TROPHY APS were acquired by several foreign customers, namely the US Army and German Army, who both selected TROPHY to protect their main battle tanks. To improve its odds, Rafael matured and optimised the TROPHY HV version into a lighter and more compact configuration to match armoured vehicles smaller and lighter than MBT. It has been integrated onto the LAV-III, tested on the STRYKER APC and has been proposed for integration with the German BOXER 8×8 armoured vehicle.
TROPHY v. IRON FIST
However, in recent competitions, IRON FIST and IF-LD have beaten TROPHY in acquisition and integration programmes. IF-LD was chosen among three contenders (beating off Rafael’s TROPHY and ARTIS’ IRON CURTAIN) to protect the US BRADLEY armoured vehicles, and is undergoing integration with the Dutch CV-9030 and the Australian BOXER 8×8 wheeled AFV, under the Land 400 Phase II Programme. The system has also been included in the Hanwha/EOS REDBACK offering, selected as one of two contenders for the Australian Land 400 Phase III Programme. Other activities involving IRON FIST include: the integration with the Modular Active Protection System (MAPS) programme under a US Army TARDEC, and an evaluation of the system by the Italian MoD, under a Government-to-Government programme.
Although the IRON FIST was developed to protect Israel’s MERKAVA main battle tanks (MBT), it lost the competition to RAFAEL’s TROPHY and conducted an uphill battle to gain the trust and support of Israel’s MoD and foreign customers, offering a lighter, more versatile and more affordable APS solution, well-suited for light and medium AFVs.
By early 2020, the system is expected to compete with TROPHY, offering the survivability enhancement for the British CHALLENGER 2 Life Enhancement Programme. The new version of IRON FIST – Light Kinetic (IFLK) will be a strong contender for this application because of its potential to defeat high speed kinetic penetrators (APFSDS), employing the blast effect of the interceptor to deflect the incoming projectile, thus reducing its penetration without adding significant armour. Another advantage is the combination of soft and hard-kill and reduced risk of collateral damage offered using blast, rather than explosive-formed projectiles (EFP) active countermeasures. IMI demonstrated an IFLK defeat of KE round during firing tests held in Aberdeen in 2010. IRON FIST is the only APS offering a proven kinetic MBT application for the system, delivering 150 kits for those main battle tanks.
A Family of APS
IRON FIST represents a family of APS comprising of two sensing technologies (radar and IR), utilising three detection methods – movement detection by radar, hostile fire (flash) indication and incoming threat signature. All systems are operating simultaneously, and sensor fusion of all channels is fed into the system’s control unit for decision making and intercept planning.
IRON FIST may also be equipped with an optional soft-kill module that integrates a laser jammer, defeating second-generation anti-tank missiles with jammers integrated into the existing pedestals and pointing at the launcher of the ATGM threat. While the hard kill is the default countermeasure, soft kill can be employed in some situations maintaining hard kill measures for other threats.
The 8×8 EITAN is a wheeled armoured vehicle developed by the Israeli MoD to replace the 60-year-old M-113. The vehicle carries 13 personnel in a spacious armoured capsule and has an unmanned turret mounting independent sights for the commander and gunner, a 30/40mm automatic cannon and ammunition, a coaxial machine gun, smoke dischargers, threat warning systems and APS. EITAN is expected to implement some of the technologies developed and demonstrated in the Carmel Programme, although, unlike Carmel, it will be operated by a crew of three. IF-LD uses independent optical sensors, tracking radar, rotatable launchers and countermeasure munitions to defeat threats at a safe distance from the defended vehicle. The system provides 360-degree protection coverage for close-range scenarios in both open terrain and urban environments. Its compact size and low weight make it more adaptable to smaller and lighter combat vehicles. Compared to wall-mounted APS, IF-LD can defeat threats at a distance from the protected vehicle, thus eliminating the probability of residual penetration and simplify integration with the platform, particularly on turreted configurations.
Although Elbit Systems is linked to these successes, the credit should be attributed to IMI Systems, the company that has persistently developed IRON FIST over two decades. Tackling technical obstacles, financial, bureaucratic and political hurdles, the IMI IRON FIST team persistently followed the Programme up to the milestone of the MoD selection.
Tamir Eshel is a security and defence commentator based in Israel.