WASHINGTON — The Army installed an active protection system on the M1 Abrams tank and fielded it in Europe, but the fate of other plans to equip similar defense measures on the service’s combat vehicles remains unclear.

In 2016, the Army determined it needed an interim solution to protect the Abrams, Stryker combat vehicle and Bradley fighting vehicle. The service decided to rapidly assess off-the-shelf active protection systems to fulfill the urgent operational need.

Ultimately the Army fielded the Trophy APS, made by Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, in a short period of time to Europe. The APS-equipped tanks have operated there over the last three years.

But even the Trophy on Abrams tanks has been challenging.

While the Army is “very happy with what it brings to us in terms of performance, it’s a little bit of a challenge to operate and really deploy and sustain it because installation on tanks is a little bit of a burden,” Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington.

Finding the right APS for Bradley and Stryker vehicles has been exponentially more challenging than putting the Trophy on Abrams. Efforts to install systems to protect both of those combat vehicles have come in fits and starts.

Iron Curtain was the first system considered a candidate for the Stryker. The APS is developed by Virginia-based company Artis. Army leaders decided in 2018, after working to characterize the system on the Stryker, that while Iron Curtain generally worked in concept, it would take too much time and money to mature the system.

The Army spent several years looking at other candidates for combat vehicles, such as a lighter version of Trophy. According to Dean, the service recently wrapped up an assessment of Unified Business Technologies’ StrikeShield, a product from the Michigan-based company partnered with German firm Rheinmetall.

Testers are still analyzing data from the assessment, conducted “with an eye toward Stryker, but not solely Stryker,” Dean said. “We’ll see what we’ve learned from that.”

He noted the Army is also watching some other APS efforts by the Marine Corps, as well as science and technology work within the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command. Dean declined to further discuss the command’s efforts.

The Army has long held that Iron Fist, an APS capability from Israeli firm Elbit Systems, is right for the Bradley vehicle, but technical and fiscal hurdles have prevented its fielding.

The Army said in January 2023 that following a redesign of Iron Fist, now called Iron Fist Light Decoupled, it is now ready to field the capability to a full brigade.

“Iron Fist Light Decoupled, that is essentially ready for production,” Dean said, and “when allocated funds to produce, we will go into production.”

But there isn’t yet planned funding, and Dean would not speculate when money might become available.

In the meantime, he said, the Army is continuing to work with Elbit on electronic upgrades in preparation for possible production approval and funding.

The service wants active protection that not only defends the sides of a vehicle but also the top, which would address threats like loitering munitions and drones.

The service is “working continuously on our ability to defeat hemispheric threats all around the vehicle against a range of threats with a range of technical approaches. So not looking for one system that is one-size-fits-all and does everything, but beyond that I’m not going to go into any more detail,” Dean said, noting the information is classified.

Additionally, the Army’s newest Abrams variant, the M1E3, will include APS that is integrated from the beginning of development. The service announced in September it would pursue an entirely new variant while scrapping its latest SEPv4 upgrade plans.

And the service’s pursuit of a vehicle — currently referred to as the XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle — to replace the Bradley by 2030 will use a similar strategy to integrate protection systems into the design from the beginning. Two companies — General Dynamics Land Systems and American Rheinmetall Vehicles — are competing to design vehicle prototypes.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.

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