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Active Protection Designed to Defeat Battlefield Threats

Active Protection Systems (APS) give Soldiers the ability to detect and avoid attacks before they happen, and employ countermeasures. Active Protection Systems (APS) give Soldiers the ability to detect and avoid attacks before they happen, and employ countermeasures.

The Army has developed Active Protection Systems (APS) in the past to detect and avoid direct hits to ground vehicles, and the Detroit Arsenal has worked on such systems with Army partners since the 1950s. However, while there have been successful technology demonstrators, they were point-specific or threat-specific technologies that didn't transition to the field and had limited growth or upgrade potential.

The current focus is on modular systems, and TARDEC is leading a Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM)-wide effort to develop APS in an adaptable way that increases protection to vehicles while reducing weight. In fact, because of asymmetrical warfare threats, the need to make vehicles lighter and the development of "smarter" autonomous capability for detection and countermeasures, Active Protection is a technology whose time has come.

"These systems are not just survivable, they give vehicle crews the ability to react, use countermeasures and continue the mission," stated TARDEC Ground System Survivability (GSS) Engineer and APS Team Leader Jason Morse. "In the past, engineers knew what to do theoretically but the computing power wasn't there to support the system. Now, with the state of computer science and the quality of components, it's obtainable."

Active protection systems feature semi-autonomous or autonomous systems that can be integrated onto vehicles to give Soldiers the capability to detect, classify, receive warning cues and use countermeasures to address threats or imminent threats in the field. For instance, if a combatant fires a rocket-propelled grenade at a vehicle equipped with APS, the system can detect the threat in the air and defeat it before the Soldiers in the vehicle know what's coming.

"The system is smart enough to recognize a threat and engage it using an autonomous capability that responds faster than a human-in-the-loop could react," Morse commented. "APS enhances a Soldier's ability to return fire by directing him to where the threat came from."

It's a leap in situational awareness and protection beyond an armor-only solution, leveraging common components across the vehicle fleet to allow engineers to tailor systems for different vehicles.

An APS will give Soldiers protection with enhanced situational awareness. An APS will give Soldiers protection with enhanced situational awareness.

"The game-changer is the offensive capability. With an APS, Soldiers will have the ability to keep doing their job and use the enhanced situational awareness to return fire, whereas with conventional types of technology, they're just focusing on surviving the event," commented TARDEC GSS Hit Avoidance Chief Engineer Will Norton.

Electronic countermeasures that alter signatures of a target and, as a result, disturb the guidance system of an incoming threat (such as an anti-tank guided missile) are called softkill technology. Measures that physically counterattack an incoming threat to destroy it or impede the intended effect are referred to as hardkill APS. TARDEC and partners plan to demonstrate the system on a vehicle using softkill technology in 2017, with a follow-up demonstration using softkill and hardkill systems in 2019.

Adding significance to this development effort is that our NATO allies intend to field these systems, which are referred to as Defensive Aid Suites in Europe.

"The rest of the free world recognizes the need for this technology as well as its benefits." Norton commented. "For the U.S., this is not a matter of 'if,' but rather it's a matter of 'when' and how well we execute the solution."