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Adding more slatted armour to combat vehicles to increase protection is burdensome and often detrimental to the performance of the vehicle. Active Protection Systems (APS) have become one of the most sought-after technologies to address modern survivability challenges.

The Increased Prominence of APSs

The recent crisis and conflicts and the continuous evolution in anti-armour technology have shown that adequate protection of vehicles and their crews is no longer achievable simply by heavier or enhanced armour solutions; these have numerous disadvantages in terms of mobility, platform performances and strain. Moreover, simply adding more slatted armour is not applicable to lighter combat vehicles. Main operators and industries are currently working on multiple, coordinated layers of passive and active sensors and countermeasures. APS have become one of the most sought-after technologies to address modern survivability challenges, primarily with threats represented by Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs). The APSs can come with active and/or passive sensors and soft- and hard-kill effectors. While ESD has already covered the main Israeli industries-provided solutions (ESD 1/2022), the current article focuses on the main European ones, while at the same time looking to new integrated suite controllers from Europe and US, capable to manage present and future sensors and countermeasures.

StrikeShield

In May 2021, Rheinmetall confirmed Hungary as the first customer of the company’s StrikeShield hybrid armour solution, announcing a €140M contract to equip 209 218 LYNX Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) under order, after the award in 2020 worth over €2Bn.

StrikeShield is the third and latest generation of the Active Defence System (ADS) technology developed by Rheinmetall Protection Systems. It is a modular, distributed, hard-kill APS, whose sensors and countermeasures are integrated into the contours of the entire vehicle being protected. The system has also been integrated for testing and validation purposes onto the BOXER platform. Moreover, the StrikeShield is being studied by the US Army as a potential APS for its fleet of STRYKER IFVs and other platforms, after an initial €10M contract was awarded in December 2019 to the team of Rheinmetall Protection Systems and Unified Business Technologies (UBT) by the US Army for testing and evaluating purposes. Instead of conventional passive-add-on armour modules, Hungary’s LYNX IFVs will feature hybrid spaced passive armour tiles that incorporate the components of the APS between an outer ply and inner tiles mounted on the vehicle’s hull.

The systems consist of armoured modules of low depth (< 140 mm) which are not identical, as highlighted by a GCI of the LYNX equipped with the system but are differently shaped and mounted at multiple locations around the host platform to ensure the coverage and redundancy necessary to effectively defeat multiple and simultaneous attacks. Each module is a setted unit, including a base plate that provides a passive armour layer for the host vehicle and an outer layer of passive armour, hosting in the middle a pre-warner radar (though not in every module) and electro-optical (EO) (laser emitter and receiver) sensors and the necessary cabling. The modules are interfaced via splitters, while a central management unit at platform level controls the whole suite. The external protection layer protects the system components against shell fragments, small arms fire and other sources of mechanical stress. The system’s countermeasures component is embedded in the first protection plate from the outside. The deflector of the countermeasure serves simultaneously as part of the first layer of passive protection. It protects the vehicle from threats posed by shaped charge warhead such as rockets or missiles by neutralising incoming projectiles before they hit the platform itself. Once the threat is detected by the radar, the system cues the EO sensor, confirming, classifying and activating the appropriate countermeasure. The system’s hybrid design greatly reduces the risk of residual damage after an incoming threat has been intercepted by the system. The distributed StrikeShield system is designed to be used at very close quarters, providing defence in close-in engagement situations even less than 15 metres, as might occur when operating in a dense urban environment. The Rheinmetall system also offers a very limited electronic signature thanks to low-powered radar which, according to presentations released by the manufacture, has an overall system exposure of about 6 km. Another key element of the StrikeShield, as the adversary`s use of EW and long-range reconnaissance, could detect the radar signature footprint of armoured formations equipped with APS and engage them from a stand-off distance with artillery. Moreover, the hybrid system combines active with armour passive elements, where the protection is assured and designed according to platform needs, according to Rheinmetall. The German company is also looking into how StrikeShield can be modified to defeat much faster kinetic (KE) energy threats such as armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) projectiles, otherwise known as long rod penetrators for MBTs. In recent testing, Rheinmetall has successfully demonstrated concepts to achieve KE defeat with the system and is working to further develop this capability.

Multi-Functional Protection System (MUSS)

Hensoldt group is developing an enhanced version of its Multi-Functional Protection System (MUSS) soft kill sensor and effector-based APS with fully passive detection. MUSS delivers critical protection against ATGMs and laser-based threats against armoured vehicles, according to Hensoldt. To date, over 350 MUSS systems have been produced and fitted assuring the self-protection of the first batch of PUMA SPz IFVs delivered by the PSM JV (50/50 percent between Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) and currently in service with the German Army. The MUSS is based on four passive heads, each combining a missile approach warner and a laser warning sensor in a single housing. The MUSS central electronics which receive and process the information from the sensor heads, provides control and activation of the MUSS warnings and countermeasures, including a 360-degree rotatable IR-jammer and/or the pyrotechnical countermeasures launched by the directable smoke dispenser (DSD). The MUSS sensors are completely passive at all times and when the MUSS IR jammer head is operating, the radiation emitted by the latter is unobservable both in the visible and IR spectrum. The jammer of current generation MUSS is proven to be effective against optically tracked wire-guided, jam resistant 2nd and 3rd generation (those guided by IR seeker) missiles, laser target designated (LDT) guided munitions and laser range finder threats. Local collateral damage as a result of the deployment of countermeasures to the platform crew, dismounted personnel and unprotected vehicles is virtually nil, according to Hensoldt. The modular Open System Architecture (OSA) also makes MUSS easy to customise.

The configurations for specific vehicle, ergonomics and operations can be met by combining selected sub-systems to deliver a desired system performance, according to Hensoldt. The MUSS 2.0 or new generation version is to be developed, tested and qualified under a contract which was awarded to the German Group by the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) in October 2021. This next generation MUSS upgrades have been conceived to detect and defeat emerging threats, by enhancements to the sensors, the processing capabilities and the software whilst at the same time delivering reduced size, weight and power (SWaP), easing the future integration with HK (Hard Kill) APS effectors. The MUSS 2.0 will be able to detect the latest laser threats, including the second-generation laser range finder, as well as laser beam riding missile guidance, both continual wave (CW) and pulsed. Being able to detect and then classify beam riding missiles is a key threat identifying capability. The increased computing power of the central electronics unit allows for integration of additional ATGM and unguided projectile threats into the MUSS database. Furthermore, new applications such as Hostile Fire Indication (HFI) and Local Situational Awareness System (LSAS) systems can become part of a wider networked capability. The system’s interfaces will expand to include the NATO Generic Vehicle Architecture (NGVA) in order to be able to port MUSS 2.0 to other platforms in real time.

These enhancements also allow the MUSS to be further developed into a layered system, enabling the integration of a hard kill effector. The SWaP activities enable Hensoldt to reduce the overall system weight (sensors, central electronics and jamming components) from 90 kg of the MUSS 1.0 to around 50 kg of the latest generation, which further facilitates the integration into any platform. The programme awarded by BAAINBw is extremely tightly scheduled but allows for the MUSS 2.0 to be available for the delivery of the second batch of the German Army’s next generation of the SPz PUMA (S1 version) and related contractual activities. MUSS is a mature product on a defined technology upgrade route map, according to Hensoldt, which can deliver platform protection for medium armoured 8×8 platforms, IFVs and Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) for national and international markets.

Turkish APS Solutions

Based on a Turkish Land Forces Command Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) issued during Operation ‘Euphrates Shield’, Aselsan has developed the PULAT hard-kill APS that leverages technology from the ZASLON-LIGHT APS developed in Ukraine. The PULAT system provides 360° protection, depending on the placement of the modules on the platform, against both AGTMs and rockets. The PULAT can also handle multiple threats simultaneously as a result of its distributed architecture. It consists of a number of so-called ‘anti-threat’ modules – including the triggering radar and the countermeasure munition on a cylindrical stick extending outside the hull once activated – distributed on the MBT hull, a power distribution unit and a control panel. The attacking weapon system warhead is neutralised at short distance from the protected platform, offering enhanced protection in close-in engagements. The PULAT has been integrated into the Turkish Army’s M60 MBT upgrade (M60TM) programme as a first protected platform, while Aselsan is working on its own new AKKOR APS for the ALTAY MBT. Entered into the inventory in 2020, according to Aselsan, Turkey is the third nation worldwide to use an APS of this type under combat conditions. More recently, Aselsan launched the development of the KAMA APS effectiveness at close range with relatively low collateral damage.

New Integrated Self-Protection Suite’s ‘Brain’

On both sides of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, operators and industries are working on new ‘brain’ capable to manage and activate present and future sensors and countermeasures in milliseconds. In 2017, the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) commissioned Leonardo to lead and deliver the ‘Icarus’ Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP). Under this programme, Leonardo leads a team of UK industrial and academic institutions with the objective to develop, demonstrate and verify a Modular Integrated Protection System (MIPS) architecture, based on open systems and model-driven principles. According to the UK MoD, the MIPS is designed to enable the flexible teaming of a range of technologies to create a suite of active protection systems, the latter combining both sensors and countermeasures to disrupt threats and form a protective ‘bubble’ around the vehicle. Tier 1 companies supporting the Leonardo research include Roke, BAE Systems, Ultra Electronics, Frazer Nash Consultancy, Lockheed Martin, Abstract Solutions and CGI. Other suppliers included MOOG, RADA and Rheinmetall. Last December, the UK MoD announced the completion of the research and verification of the MIPS core architecture, with the next step being to progress the implementation of MIPS-compliant systems to higher technology readiness levels. Depending on the speed of the development, MIPS could be brought into service from 2027, according to the UK MoD in a statement. It followed Leonardo’s announcement during DSEI 2021 that the Icarus TDP has successfully trialed and demonstrated a MIPS protection system approach, providing a comprehensive test of the ability of the MIPS-based sense, control and reaction sequence to appropriately respond to threats within extremely short timeframes. The new approach brings together layers of electronic and physical protection technologies to equip manned and future robotics and autonomous system platforms with a formidable defensive shield. A through-life capability roadmap and initial approach for acquisition has been produced to help inform UK MoD as it looks to establish a way forward to mature the MIPS capability and bring it into operational service. A contractual amendment to the original TDP has been placed to extend the programme’s scope to explore the potential application of MIPS to deliver counter-drone and counter-ISTAR capability solutions.

In February 2021, Lockheed Martin has been awarded a US$30M ceiling contract to begin supporting formal integration and testing of its open architecture processor designed to control the US Army future combat vehicle protection systems. Under the contract terms, Lockheed Martin is to provide its Modular Active Protection System (MAPS) base kit, which integrates sensors and countermeasures in an open, common framework to detect, track and defeat existing and emerging threats like rocket-propelled grenades and ATGMs. At the backbone of the US Army’s MAPS framework, the open-architecture controller, also known as Modular Active Protection Controller (MAC) at the core of the base kit features open standard interfaces and readily incorporates sensors and countermeasures compliant with the MAPS framework. It provides fast and secure processing to drive multiple applications and future vehicles protection system capabilities. Based on COTS to support future upgrades and supporting rigorous safety standards and cybersecurity, in addition to be configurable for multiple functions and protocols, the MAPS controller comes together with a power management distribution system, plus a network switch and a user interface control panel. These are designed to form the open and scalable MAPS base kit designed to grow with current combat vehicles and support future vehicle protection system capabilities. As part of the contract, Lockheed Martin is due to deliver five-production-ready base kits with an option for up to 20. It is also set to provide platform integration and run on-vehicle in support of US Army integration and live-fire demonstrations on ABRAMS MBTs, the Armoured Multi-Purpose Vehicle, BRADLEY and STRYKER IFVs. The contract also covers developing base kit support for vehicle protection capabilities beyond active protection, such as underbelly blast protection. Lockheed Martin has been working with the US Army to develop the system and software since 2014 and has successfully completed live testing, working with other industries providing sensors and countermeasures.