In order to counter the proliferation of anti-tank weapons, the U.S. Army has been exploring options for an active protection system that uses sensors, radar and computer processing to lock on and knock down incoming rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles.
Taking steps in that direction, the Army has awarded a $193 million contract to Leonardo DRS for the Trophy Active Protection System in support of the M1 Abrams main battle tank’s “immediate operational requirements,” according to a June 26 news release.
The Trophy system was developed by an Israeli firm — Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. — and their long-standing partner, Leonardo DRS. Rafael currently fields “some 1,000 systems to all major Israeli ground combat platforms,” according to the release.
Trophy is possibly the only combat-proven active protection system on the market. Variants of the system have been filmed intercepting shots fired on Israeli armored vehicles on the Gaza strip dating back to 2014.
Trophy’s active protection system works by using a radar to detect and classify incoming rounds. The system tracks the threat, computes parameters necessary to intercept it, and transmits the alert to the tank’s crew. If the incoming round poses a danger, the system launches countermeasures to intercept it before it strikes the tank.
The contract was first announced by the Pentagon on June 15, but lobbying for this type of active protection system began much earlier.
In a June 2017 hearing, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Congress there remains a “critical need” to develop systems that can defeat the various shaped-charge weapons increasingly fielded in conflicts around the world.
“Right now, there are only two countries whose industries produce these complete systems ... one of them is friendly, and one of them is not so friendly,” Milley said, referencing Israel and Russia.
Naturally, the Army wound up procuring an active protection system from Israel, rather than Russia.
Milley said in the June 2017 hearing that the Army was working with the “friendly country” to test the system and ensure it fits U.S. armored vehicle designs.
“We intend to field those to first responding units, and we will eventually field them throughout the force, for the entire Army: Guard, reserve and active,” Milley said. “We, the United States, are working very, very fast to have the industrial base produce some systems.”
In October, it was announced that the Trophy system would be urgently fielded to a brigade’s worth of Abrams tanks in the European theater.
By the time active protection systems are fielded to the total force, “we think the U.S. commercial solutions will be available, and we'll probably put it up at that point for competitive bid when we expand it to the entire Army,” Milley said last June.
The Israeli-based firm echoed Milley’s intention to produce their active protection system in the United States.
“Rafael has provided protection solutions to U.S. service members for over two decades via lifesaving passive and reactive armor on vehicles such as Bradley, Stryker and AAV7. We are excited to continue to do so with [Trophy],” said Moshe Elazar, executive vice president and head of Rafael’s land and naval division.
“The majority of [Trophy] components are manufactured by the American defense industry, and we are excited by the opportunity to increase manufacturing in [the United States], including for Israeli systems,” Elazar added.
Under the terms of the contract, Leonardo DRS will provide the Army with the Trophy systems, countermeasures and maintenance kits.
Since the introduction of active protection systems, newer anti-tank weapons have also been fielded, such as the Russian-made RPG-30.
"The novelty of the Russian [RPG-30] is that two rockets are fired at the target at the same time,” a defense industry official told TASS, a Russian state-media agency. “One is a so-called ‘agent provocateur’ 42 mm in caliber, followed a bit later by a primary 105-mm tandem warhead rocket.”
In 2012, however, Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reported that Rafael was fielding a counter to the RPG-30, known as "Trench Coat," to supplement the existing Trophy system. Trench Coat reportedly consists of a 360-degree radar and launches 17 projectiles, one of which would ideally strike the tandem missile.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter whose investigations have covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.