Active protection

Should Our Armour Be Better Protected?

T14 Drawing

Much is made about the US Army’s M1 Abrams tank’s ability to defeat anti-armour projectiles fired from ground-based platforms thanks to its highly-secretive Chobham composite skin, but little is mentioned concerning an active protective system designed to defeat munitions fired from low-flying attack helicopters or man-portable systems. Conversely, Russia’s new T-14 Armata tank features two levels of protection against these threats, as detailed in Wikipedia:

“In addition to dual-reactive armour Malachit the T-14 features an active protection system Afghanit (Russian: Афганит). This system includes a millimeter-wavelength radar to detect, track and intercept incoming anti-tank munitions, both kinetic energy penetrators and tandem-charges. Currently, the maximum speed of the interceptable target is 1,700 m/s, with projected future increases of up to 3,000 m/s. According to the news sources it protects the tank from all sides.

Defense Update released their analysis of the tank, where they speculate that Afghanit main sensors are the four panels mounted on a turret’s sides, which are probably the AESA radar panes spread out for the 360° view, and possible one more on top of the turret. In their opinion, the active part of the system it consists of both a hard kill and a soft kill elements, first of which actively destroys the incoming projectile (such as a dumb rocket or artillery shell), while the second confuses the guidance mechanism of ATGMs and such, causing it to lose the target lock. They believe that it would be effective against most modern ATGMs, including Hellfire, TOW, Javelin, Spike, Brimstone, JAGM, etc.

Afghanit hard-kill launchers are the long tubes mounted in groups of five between the turret’s front sides and the chassis. These send out an electronically activated charge that shoots an Explosively Formed Penetrator towards the target (in all directions). Aside from that, the tank is also equipped by the NII Stali’s Upper Hemisphere Protection Complex, which consists of two steerable cartridges with 12 smaller charges each, and a turret-top VLS with two more similar cartridges. It probably corresponds to the Defense Update soft-kill system. Additionally, using AESA radar and anti-aircraft machine gun it is possible to destroy incoming missiles and slow-flying shells (except hypersonic kinetic energy penetrators).”

As I understand it, the US Army is loathe to adding this type of “active” protection to its fleet of main battle tanks because it will likely cause collateral damage amongst any accompanying troops travelling on foot, putting them in harm’s way should the tanks have to defend themselves. As a result, more effort has been placed into providing units with accompanying anti-aircraft weaponry, both tracked and on foot, as a means of protecting its armored forces, as well as less lethal countermeasures against other threats. However, as we move further into the 21st Century, should the brass reexamine and reevaluate this strategy if its armour can no longer compete with its adversaries?

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