The Marine Corps plans to buy or lease active protection systems (APS) for its M1 Abrams main battle tanks, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for combat development and integration, told members of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower April 13, 2016 that are vulnerable to proliferating anti-tank guided missiles.

Gen. Walsh said the marine Corps should approach vehicle protection as it does with aircraft protection. “As we started to get threats on our aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, from infrared missiles, we quickly put on capabilities to defeat those type of missiles. Now we see the threat on the ground changing, becoming much more sophisticated. What we’ve continued to do is to put on more armor. We’ve got to start thinking of higher technology capability with vehicle protective systems (APS), which can defeat anti-tank guided missiles, RPGs, and top down threats we face, along with soft kill – this is what our aircraft has. We need the same technology for our vehicles.”

“It can take us a long time to develop APS,” Walsh continued, saying that the Marines are following rapid prototyping approaches to gain better understanding of those capabilities. “We are going to buy or lease some trophy systems, put them on M1A1 tanks, take that, use that, see how it works.” Walsh said the Army do the same on Stryker and M1A2. “We’ve seen aircraft and helicopters get shot down in Afghanistan and Iraq, we’ll have the same problem on the ground if we don’t get up in front of that technology on the ground side also.” Walsh warned.

[nonmember]This is an excerpt of the 800 word article. Subscribe to read the full version and get the extra photos.[/nonmember] [ismember]The Marine Corps will test the Trophy APS system developed by Israel’s defense company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, sold in the USA via DRS Technologies, a subsidiary of the Italian Finmeccanica group. Walsh said the services plan to test the Israeli system as well as other systems, assessing the impact and capabilities of such systems and the future need for such systems. Walsh echoed Army leadership in saying threats to ground vehicles are emerging faster than MAPS will field a suitable defense. “It could take us a long time to develop active protection systems on vehicles,” Walsh said. “We could be here for a long time while the threat continues to move ahead of us.”

A model of an M-1A2 main battle tank with Trophy APS, displayed by DRS Technologies at the AUSA exhibition. Photo: Noam Eshel
A model of an M-1A2 main battle tank with Trophy APS, displayed by DRS Technologies at the AUSA exhibition. Photo: Noam Eshel

According to Gen. Walsh, the Marine Corps is “Working very closely with the Army to develop active protection systems”. The US Army has been evaluating several foreign APS for years, but so-far has opted not to buy such systems to equip its combat vehicles. The Army has its own program of record for an APS – known as the Army’s modular active protection system (MAPS), which is currently a research and development effort. The goal of MAPS is to field an APS in 10 years.

Trophy has been integrated and tested on a Stryker during previous APS testing initiated by the Secretary of Defense, O’Leary said. DRS has plans in place to integrate Trophy onto M1 tanks. In 2012 and 2013,
Trophy underwent live fire testing mounted on a Canadian light armored vehicle. According to Walsh, the Army is also planning to test the systems on M1A2 Abrams tanks.

While the baseline Trophy system remains the same, each vehicle requires unique integration to address the threats that it likely will encounter, O’Leary said. Consideration is also given to integration with a particular vehicle’s onboard electronics and power-generation suite.

On the ground, the proliferation of anti-tank guided missiles is presenting the same threat to Marine Corps tactical vehicles that heat-seeking and man-portable air defense missiles posed to rotorcraft. Like the Army, the Marine Corps has bolted on about as much armor as possible to its tanks and other vehicles as possible without seriously degrading vehicle performance. Walsh said the Marine Corps should consider both hard-kill and soft-kill vehicle protection systems.

Merkava Mk4 with Trophy Active Protection System seen in Gaza - July 2014. Photo: IDF Spokesman
Merkava Mk4 with Trophy Active Protection System seen in Gaza – July 2014. Photo: IDF Spokesman
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Trophy is the only APS that has been proven in combat. Israeli Merkava tanks were outfitted with the system during the 2014 Gaza conflict where they successfully destroyed incoming missile threats in highly
congested urban combat, Mike O’Leary, director of advanced concepts at DRS, told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

The system incorporates both soft- and hard-kill missile countermeasures. Soft-kill systems either disguise a vehicle from an incoming threat or spoof or damage its homing ability by electronic means. Hard-kill systems provide a secondary level of protection that physically destroy incoming projectiles before they reach the vehicle and ideally before detonation.

Trophy also automatically identifies the direction from which a missile was fired and directs offensive systems toward the threat, O’Leary said. All of those capabilities were demonstrated in actual combat in Gaza.