Active Protection for Israeli AFVs – More than Hard Kill

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Such capabilities have already enabled Israeli tank crews to effectively eliminate Palestinian ambushes along the Gaza strip borderline, as Trophy APS detected, localized and engaged imminent threats, while directing the crew to take action against the firing teams, automatically localized by the system’s sensors.

Rafael’s Spotlite provides armored vehicle crews an indication on the sources of fire – including gun shots, sniper fire, RPGs or missile launches. The system instantly detects the threat and indicates its location, enabling the crew to direct effective counter fire at the threat. Photo: Rafael

Such unprecedented capabilities are bound to make a change in future land warfare, at least, as reflected by the intensive activity in this field among Israel’s defense industries. In addition to the two main ‘hard kill’ thrusts – Rafael’s ASPRO-A ‘Trophy’ and IMI’s Iron Fist, there are parallel developments of ‘soft kill’ techniques – an integrated ‘Sense-Respond-Strike’ system called ESP, developed at Elbit Land Systems, comprised of integrated, panoramic infra-red sensors, laser detection systems and directional infra-red jammer mounted on a single mast. The system provides the crew full situational awareness, missile launch warning and effective countermeasure against missile threats, under closed hatches.

IMI has also integrated a laser jammer into its ‘Iron Fist’ solution, the system successfully intercepted two AT-7 Metis short range guided anti-tank missiles recently in a test conducted in the U.S. On that test Iron Fist also performed flawlessly against other threats, employing ‘hard kill’ interceptors against two other Metis weapons, and defeating three kinetic projectiles, also with its ‘hard kill’ defense. Overall, the system scored 100% against seven shots.

The first operational installation of Rafael’s Aspro A (Trophy) APS was on Israel’s new production Merkava Mk4M main battle tanks. The system shown here includes one of the WindGuard radar panels, and the countermeasure unit, mounting a training device (colored blue). Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense Update

While the interceptors are producing the ‘bang’, the brain of the APS is the sensor and associated processor. The most mature is the EL/M 2133 ‘WindGuard’ from Elta Systems, an Active Electronic Scanning Array (AESA) radar system – the only operational, combat-proven system in service with Israel’s Merkava Mk4M. Part of the Rafael’s Trophy APS, WindGuard is designed to counter anti-tank rockets and missiles. The radar detects the flying missile or rocket, instantly calculates the projected impact point and launch point where it came from. If the threat is likely to hit the protected tank, the WindGuard directs the Trophy to fire its ‘multi-EFP’ charge, destroying the threat at a safe distance. Within seconds, the radar also informs the crew of the location of the firing source, automatically laying the main weapon or remote weapon station to engage the threat. The EL/M 2133 currently installed on the Merkava is the first generation of the system. An improved, compact, lighter and more affordable model is currently in development, addressing full-scale acquisition programs of such APS.

The ESP from Elbit Systems integrates panoramic ‘through armor’ vision with an array of passive threat warning sensors. The integrated system provides improved situational display, detects missile launches, and laser illumination. It also uses an electro-optical jammer to disrupt the guidance of incoming missiles. Photo: Noam Eshel, defense Update

Until recently Elta was the exclusive radar developer in Israel, but in recent years, things are changing. After the 2006 Lebanon War another player entered the field, with defense electronics specialist RADA Electronic Systems introducing the RPS-10 radar designed for APS. The new system was designed to address the Iron Fists’ requirements for higher precision, processing speed and target velocity, and, according to the manufacturer, based on modern electronic architecture of AESA technology; RPS-10 is also more affordable. The system was integrated with IMI’s Iron Fist and in the past year was successfully tested in Iron Fist intercepts in Israel, and abroad, where it defeated anti-tank rockets, missiles and ‘kinetic’ penetrators.

Shock Absorber, from IMI offers a stand-alone dismounted APS, designed to protect installations or dismounted troops from guided missile attacks. Photo: IMI

While the radars are emitting strong signals that could easily be detected by sophisticated signals intelligence (SIGINT), AFVs can also rely on passive, staring infrared sensors to detect and localize enemy fire. Again, several Israeli companies have invested in such developments, namely Elisra, offering a derivative of the airborne passive warning system called Tandir, Rafael, utilizing a vehicle mounted version of its passive sniper detection system (Spotlite-M) and Elta Systems, employing an innovative Transient Event detection (TED) technology employing Short Wave Infra-Red (SWIR) imaging system, originally developed as a personal gunshot detection system. While Trophy can operate effectively with the radar only, Elta consider the advantages of integrating an EO sensor to enable the crew maintaining the system in a ‘quiet mode’, with the active sensor at standby, instantly bursting into action only upon detection of an imminent threat.

IMI has also modified the ‘soft kill’ subset of the Iron Fist into a stand-alone system, capable of protecting dismounted troops or installations from guided missiles attacks. The system, known as ‘Shock Absorber‘ is equipped with an infrared alerting sensor and IR countermeasure unit, transmitting jamming signals to decieve the guidance of an incoming missile.