Armor: Zaslon, Arena And Trophy


November 15, 2021: Germany successfully completed acceptance tests of the Israeli Trophy APS (Active Protection System) purchasing for their Leopard 2 tanks. The October 2021 tests consisted of firing ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles), RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and shells from tank guns or artillery that often fire such shells equipped with shaped charge warheads at tanks, at a Trophy equipped Leopard 2.

This is not the first Leopard 2 to use an APS. Turkish Leopard 2 and M60 tanks were equipped with the Ukrainian Zaslon APS in 2018 and were successful enough for Turkey to obtain a manufacturing license to build Zaslon. Several other countries have ordered Zaslon because it is one of the few APS systems that proved itself in combat. Moreover, Zaslon is more flexible to install as it uses individual modules and can be used on tanks equipped with ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor). On the downside, Zaslon will injure nearby infantry, which is a major problem for many nations. Zaslon has been in service for as long as Trophy and worked against Russian weapons in 2015, but saw little exposure to combat after that until the Turks noticed it.

Trophy is considered the most useful and combat proven APS and over 2,000 systems have been installed or are on order for Israeli Merkava, American M1 and Leopard 2 tanks as well as other Israeli and American armored vehicles. For example, in mid-2020 American M1 tanks arrived in Europe equipped with Trophy APS. The Israeli manufacturer began delivering 261 M1 APS kits in late 2019. These equip all the M1 tanks in four combat brigades. A few Trophy equipped M1s are also available for testing and training.

The United States was late in adopting APS, mainly because few 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. Trophy was added at the same time 62 ARAT (Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles) were installed to 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 spent a lot of time exposed to ATGMS and RPGs. Between testing and actual combat, Trophy has been fired at over 5,600 times and successfully defeated all attacks. Trophy has accumulated over a million operating hours so far and no vehicle equipped with Trophy has had a crew member injured. Like earlier active defense systems such as the naval Phalanx, you cannot leave the system on if there is no threat. That wears out the electronics and there is always a small risk of the system being accidently triggered by something other than a threat.

The U.S. eventually noted that Western tanks, like the M1 and Leopard 2 are increasingly vulnerable to ATGMs and improved RPGs. 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 the Ukrainian Zaslon 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, Trophy has been the best-selling APS because it is continually improved. Partly this is because of reports from users but also because there is more than one APS manufacturer in Israel. Competition is another form of combat that keeps everyone honest.

The main APS competitor is IMI and its Iron Fist APS. Despite losing out to Trophy (from Rafael) in a 2010 competition to be the primary IDF (Israeli Defense 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 was installed on lighter American armored vehicles like the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) and similar IDF vehicles, including their armored D9 bulldozers.

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 plans 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 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. 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, though for 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 but 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.

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. Russia feared these ATGMs because 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.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close