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The U.S. Army looks to anti-missile technology to help protect its fleet of tanks

Nearly a decade ago, the Israeli defense systems company Rafael debuted an innovative anti-missile defense mechanism designed to protect armored vehicles and tanks from (you guessed it) missiles. Following years of overseas research and development, it appears this revolutionary tech is finally ready for the big leagues as the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are reportedly gearing up to test the system on its tanks. Called the Trophy Active Protection System, the device essentially defends vehicles it’s attached to by shooting incoming explosives with a turret-mounted shotgun. Effective? Incredibly. Required? Absolutely.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Naval Institute, the Army plans on leasing four of Rafael’s Trophy systems and intends to test the devices on its Stryker combat vehicle and M1A2 tanks. Additionally, the Marine Corps says it plans on putting Trophy through its paces as it’s currently modifying a few of its M1A1 tanks with mounts capable of holding the system. While speaking at a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing this week, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh acknowledged how necessary tech like Trophy is to keep up with advancing anti-tank threats.

“When we start getting threats on our aircraft, our helicopters, our fixed wing aircraft, [from] infrared missiles, we quickly put out a capability to defeat those types of missiles,” Walsh said at the hearing. “Now we’re seeing the threat on the ground changing, becoming a much more sophisticated threat on the ground. What we’ve continued to do is up-armor our capabilities on the ground, put armor on them.”

An M1A1 Abrams tank
An M1A1 Abrams tank U.S. Navy / Mate 1st Class Ted Banks

Walsh continued by pointing out how the military must start thinking “more with a higher technology capability” to protect its vehicles. While adding more armor certainly has the ability to protect vehicles better, increasing armor increases weight which dramatically decreases the speed of the vehicle. If maneuvering away from RPGs or dodging IEDs is preferred, a slow vehicle is the last thing the military would want to deploy on any battlefield. Hence a renewed interest in Rafael’s innovative device.

Trophy operates in two modes: active and soft. Its active functionality works with its onboard sensors to detect incoming threats and then fire rounds intended to deflect those threats. Conversely, soft mode utilizes jammers in a manner similar to how most aircraft self-protection systems operate, in that it also actively detects threats and uses electronics to defend its host vehicle or tank.

Currently, the Navy already uses tech similar to Trophy but Walsh says the issue with implementing the device on land vehicles concerns its inherent weight and size. As mentioned above, it’s unrealistic to continue to add more weight to vehicles and expect them to keep functioning at a high level. However, if Trophy works as expected, the military’s armored vehicles and tanks could (feasibly) operate with a whole lot less armor — or none at all.

Though testing is scheduled to commence soon, it’s unknown when exactly the Army or Marine Corps plan on fully implementing Trophy into its battle-ready armored vehicles and tanks.

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