Armor: American Armor Got Trophy

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August 14, 2020: In mid-2020 U.S. Army forces in Europe received their first M1 tanks equipped with the Israeli Trophy APS (Active Protection System). The Israeli manufacturer began delivering the 261 M1 APS kits in late 2019. These will equip all the M1 tanks in four combat brigades. A few Trophy equipped M1s will also be available for testing and training.

The U.S. Army was late in adopting APS, mainly because not a lot of American operated M1 tanks seemed to need it and the army procurement budget was shrinking. Over the last few years APS came to be seen as a necessity. In 2018 the army finally got the money to upgrade M1 tanks with Trophy. This came after Trophy had been tested on the M1. Those Trophy test kits were removed because the Americans noted a few changes that needed to be made and the Israeli manufacturer made those adjustments before manufacturing the M1 Trophy. Another addition is the addition 62 ARAT (Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles) to the cover the running gear and tracks as additional protection against RPGs, which are often fired at this area to cripple tank mobility. The ARAT tiles add another two tons, in addition to the weight (about a ton) for Trophy.

Trophy has been around since 2009 and has considerable combat experience. Between testing and actual combat Trophy has been fired at over 4,000 times and successfully defeated these attacks by guided and unguided (RPG) missiles. Trophy has accumulated over 500,000 operating hours so far and no vehicle equipped with Trophy has had a crew member injured. The U.S. noted that Western tanks, like the M1 and Leopard 2 are increasingly vulnerable to ATGMs and improved RPGs (Rocket propelled grenades). This was demonstrated in northwest Syria from 2016 to 2018 as Turkey lost over a dozen Leopard 2 and older American M60 tanks to Kornet and other ATGMs. Turkey tried several different defensive solutions but finally selected a Ukrainian APS for their tanks. Israel was not considered because since 2000 Turkey has been ruled by an anti-Israel government.

Israel has been a pioneer in APS development and there are several Israeli firms developing and selling APS gear. One of those firms created the Iron Fist APS, which lost out to Trophy, and all the money to be made equipping Israeli and foreign tanks and other vehicles with APS. So far, several thousand Trophy kits have been ordered or installed and the system continues to be improved. Partly this is because of reports from users but also because there is more than one APS manufacturer in Israel.

The main APS competitor is IMI, which is the Iron Fist APS manufacturer. Despite losing out to Trophy (from Rafael) in a 2010 competition to be the primary IAF (Israeli Armed Forces) APS, IMI continued development. As a result, Iron Fist developed into an APS that is lighter, more compact, easier to install and, on paper at least, has more features. Iron Fist will be equipping lighter American armored vehicles like the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). Iron Fist contains heat sensors as well as radar to detect threats and that includes rifle and machine-gun fire. These weapons cannot damage armored vehicles, but it is useful for the crew to know where the fire is coming from. A full-size Iron Fist can also jam guidance systems on some missiles and has a lower false-alarm rate. There is also a lightweight version with fewer of the extras but that can be put on much lighter vehicles like trucks. While Iron Fist has not been proven in combat like Trophy the manufacturer says it has worked well in tests and that was enough to encourage the American and Dutch armies to evaluate it on some of their armored vehicles. The Israeli army also selected Iron Fist for its Nemer heavy IFV.

The U.S. also planned to install the Iron Curtain APS on Stryker armored vehicles. This APS comes from an American firm (Artis) which began development in 2005 and was dropped from consideration in 2018 because the developer seemed incapable of solving some key technical problems. The losses Turkish Leopard 2 (similar to the M1) and older M-60T tanks were taking from ATGMs in Syria was another wakeup call.

Until 2018 Trophy was the only APS most people heard about. In part that was because the first battalion of Merkavas was equipped with Trophy in 2010. In 2011 Trophy defeated incoming missiles and rockets in combat for the first time. This included ATGMs, mainly the Russian Kornet E. This is a laser guided missile with a range of 5,000 meters. The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile's warhead can penetrate enough modern tank armor to render the side armor of the Israeli Merkava tank vulnerable. The Kornet E missile weighs 8.2 kg (18 pounds) and the launcher 19 kg (42 pounds). A few weeks before the ATGM intercept Trophy defeated an RPG warhead, which is an unguided rocket propelled grenade fired from a metal tube balanced on the shoulder. As it was designed to do, Trophy operated automatically, and the crew didn't realize the incoming RPG warhead or missile had been stopped until after it was over. That is how APS is supposed to work and Trophy proved to be the most reliable and effective APS out there. By 2012 Israel was convinced sufficiently to equip all the Merkava tanks in an armor brigade with the Trophy APS.

This first APS combat use is a big deal because APS has been around for nearly three decades, but demand and sales had been slow until then. The main purpose of APS is to stop ATGMs but on less heavily armored vehicles, stopping RPG type warheads is important as well. The Israeli Trophy APS uses better, more reliable, and more expensive technology than the original Russian Drozd or its successors, like Arena APS. This includes an electronic jammer that will defeat some types of ATGMs. For about $300,000 per system, Trophy will protect a vehicle from ATGMs as well as RPGs, which are much more common in combat zones. Israel is the first Western nation to have a lot of their tanks shot up by ATGMs and fears the situation will only get worse. Trophy protected several Israeli tanks from ATGM and RPG attacks during the 50 Day War with Hamas in mid-2014 and several other attacks since.

In 2015 a lightweight (200 kg/440 pound) version of its Trophy APS called Trophy LV was introduced. This is intended for MRAPs (heavily armored trucks), IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and other heavy vehicles that are lighter than tanks. The regular Trophy weighs about a ton and is one of several APS models on the market but it is also the one with the most impressive combat record. The Israeli manufacturer of Trophy also partners with American firms to manufacture Trophy and Trophy LV for the U.S. market. But in this case another Israeli firm entered the American market with the similar and more capable Iron First.

Israel first encountered ATGMs, on a large scale, in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. But these were the clumsy, first generation missiles that turned out to be more smoke than fire. More recent ATGM designs have proved more reliable and effective but no nation, except Israel, has yet made a major commitment to APS. That may now change, simply because effective APS like Trophy are available and RPG and ATGM losses are growing.

Most APS consist of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and disable the incoming threat. A complete system weighs about a ton. There is also a Trophy Light (weighing half a ton) for lighter, often unarmored, vehicles and now the even lighter Trophy LV for vehicles as small as a hummer.

Russia pioneered the development of these anti-missile systems. The first one, the Drozd, entered active service in 1983, mainly for defense against American ATGMs. These the Russians feared a great deal, as American troops had a lot of them, and the Russians knew these missiles (like TOW) worked. Russia went on to improve their anti-missile systems but was never able to export many of them. This was largely because these systems were expensive (over $100,000 per vehicle), no one trusted Russian hi-tech that much and new tanks, like the American M-1, were a bigger threat than ATGMs. The Americans also noted that the most frequent unexpected attack on tanks was with RPGs, which was why the ARAT was added to Trophy equipped tanks. Trophy is turned off most of the time while the ARAT is always active and the tracks and running gear (wheels) are the most vulnerable to RPG hits.

The latest Russian APS, Arena, has proved very effective against many types of ATGMs because Arena also depends on laser detection and the use of electronic devices to disrupt the control signals going to the ATGM as it approaches the tank. Ukrainian troops encountered this during the last few years while fighting Russian backed (and equipped) separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine (Donbas) where fighting has been going on since 2014.

 


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