Trophy Active Protection System

A number of folks have contacted me concerning the stories that started running last night about the military’s rejection of the Trophy Active Protection System (APS), an anti-RPG system that’s designed to detect and destroy incoming rocket-propelled grenades before they strike their targets.

I saw the story early yesterday evening on MSNBC.com, and it goes like this:

Army shuns system to combat RPGs
Experts agree it might help save lives, so why isn’t it in the field?

WASHINGTON – Rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs, are a favorite weapon of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are cheap, easy to use and deadly.

RPGs have killed nearly 40 Americans in Afghanistan and more than 130 in Iraq, including 21-year-old Pvt. Dennis Miller.

“They were in Ramadi, and his tank was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade,” says Miller’s mother, Kathy. “Little Denny never knew what hit him.”

Excuse me for a moment, and please forgive any unintended crassness towards Mrs. Miller. But any story about military procurement that begins with a sobbing mother and “Little Denny” getting killed should be approached with extreme caution. Really.

This Trophy system is the one that was labelled by morons in the press as being a ‘Star Trek’ force field.

Sixteen months ago, commanders in Iraq began asking the Pentagon for a new system to counter RPGs and other anti-tank weapons.

Last year, a special Pentagon unit thought it found a solution in Israel — a high-tech system that shoots RPGs out of the sky. But in a five-month exclusive investigation, NBC News has learned from Pentagon sources that that help for U.S. troops is now in serious jeopardy.

The system is called “Trophy,” and it is designed to fit on top of tanks and other armored vehicles like the Stryker now in use in Iraq.

Trophy works by scanning all directions and automatically detecting when an RPG is launched. The system then fires an interceptor — traveling hundreds of miles a minute — that destroys the RPG safely away from the vehicle.

A “five-month exclusive investigation”, huh? Let’s see, September minus five months would make, oh, about April or so. Which is when all of this was publicly announced. I hope this article is the first of a ten-part series, because there’s nothing here that wasn’t available in April.

In early April, Fox News ran a video of a test of this system (repeating the “force field” nonsense) and I pointed it out in Linkzookery. As noted in May’s Military Transformation Uplink, Defense Tech covered this in depth on April 26th and Defense Industry Daily did the same on May 8th. Army Times had an article just before those two posts went up, and I intended to write about it myself, but I had trouble finding more info besides what was in Army Times. DT and DID did a far better job than I would have, so I left it at that.

One point I wanted to make was that for such a near-perfect system, the Israelis don’t seem to be falling over themselves to install it on their own vehicles. The MSNBC.com article has this:

The Israeli military, which recently lost a number of tanks and troops to RPGs, is rushing to deploy the system.

We’ll see.

Trophy’s manufacturer, Rafael, claims that the system is more than 90% effective. The US military’s Office of Force Transformation says that it’s more than 98% effective.

I’d sure like to see a successful anti-RPG system, but 90%? Come on. That isn’t even remotely believable and anyone who follows military technology knows it. Oh, sure, it might shoot down 9 out of 10 RPGs on a testbed vehicle in a carefully controlled test environment, but I’d suggest that an anti-RPG system that’s even 50% effective in the real would be a great boon to our troops.

But expect to hear the 90% number parroted around as if the Army is intentionally killing its own soldiers.

missilecommand90percent.jpgA major concern seems to be the safety of things around the vehicle armed with Trophy. In the real world, vehicles are surrouned by friendly troops, as well as civilians. Just like they aren’t in static tests.

Remember Atari’s Missile Command? What was the most fun strategy? It was rolling the targeting cursor across the screen, firing missiles off willy-nilly. This created an impervious “force field” of destruction that was at least 90% (and more like 98%) effective at stopping incoming warheads.

But what if friendly troops and civilians (not to mention cars and buildings and puppy dogs) are in the line of fire? They’ll be cut to ribbons more often than we’d like, wouldn’t they?

This sort of system, like the Navy’s Phalanx CIWS and the (in)famous Patriot missiles, needs to run on automatic mode, meaning that a computer is “watching” for incoming RPGs and automatically fires when it detects one. There simply is no time for a human to recognize the threat, decide what to do, target, and fire.

Navy ships turn off their Phalanx systems when in port. Remember the attacks on US ships in a Jordanian port a year ago? They had their systems turned off according to policy. I thought it was only in US ports that they were off, but it’s in ALL ports. Why? Because the risk of opening up on something besides a missile is too great. Whatever RPG defense we go with is going to have to take all of this into account.

One line of reasoning seems to be that the Future Combat System’s active defense will tie in with all the other tracking and communication gear in use or being developed, allowing the system to know where our guys are at all times. It could then factor this in when deciding how or if to fire. This would still leave civilians at risk, though.

Of course, another line of reasoning is that the US doesn’t want to buy someone else’s system when we have all this money in the defense budget just burning a hole in our pocket. Why buy something built in Israel now when we can buy something built in the proper Congressional district five years from now? I’d say that this line of reasoning seems perfectly reasonable, given the sorry state of military procurement these days.

All this being said, I’d sure like to see more tests and some real-world use of the Trophy. If nothing else, it will help make the future FCS system (to be built by Raytheon) more effective. And, even if not suited to use on our vehicles, maybe Trophy has uses in static emplacements. We’re already trying out the Phalanx on the ground. Maybe this system has uses along those lines.

Just keep all this in mind if media reports about Bush and Rumsfeld and the all the generals not caring about soldiers start making waves.

More coverage at Say Anything and FR.

UPDATE: Here’s the Fox News report from earlier in the year:

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Comments

  • skrip00 says:

    The US has several systems which can be implemented now… but the only one which seems to limit civilian casualties is CICM. All other systems involve hit to kill or standoff explosives. CICM however involves using METAL STORM (i think) to fire a zillion BBs at the incoming RPG/ATGM/whatever. The only drawbacks would seem to be a lack of ammunition. Basically it tears the thing to shreds like CIWS does to Anti-ship missiles. Its also been tested as well. Last tests we’re in 2004. Even Israel seems to like this system. Link @ Defense Update: http://www.defense-update.com/products/c/CICM.htm

  • Firehand says:

    Pretty much anything that works to take out an incoming projectile will have that drawback; if the system takes out the missile/rpg you’ve likely got a big blast and fragments, if it misses where does it go and what does it hit? Systems like this would be good in an open battlefield, but in an urban area where you DON’T want to also blast anything around, they’re a lot more limited.

  • james says:

    Here is something to fit the bill. Simple, light, and safe. It made it into the 2007 budget. http://durbin.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=259233 # Tactical RPG Airbag Protection System, Decatur: $3 million to develop Tactical RPG Airbag Protection System (TRAPS), the only active protection system under development by the Army that does not result in collateral damage to dismounted troop or adjacent vehicles. TRAPS uses commercial airbag and low-cost radar technology to defeat the RPG warheads and has been successfully tested against most of the RPG configurations currently threatening coalition troops. Decatur Electronics, in Decatur, would compete for this initiative.

  • Dfens says:

    What, Durbin thinks it is possible to hit an RPG, but not an incoming nuke missile from the USSR? Go figure. I guess it just goes to show that nothing good ever comes of politicizing weapons. Kinda like the whole body armor tempest. It’s funny how there are all these systems available within a year or so of actual Pentagon acknowledgement of a need, yet no one there had the good sense to anticipate this need (RPGs and mortars weren’t exactly developed yesterday), and even on the ‘fast track’ it will be years before the Army actually gets anything in the field. Hell, we were better off with paper and slide rules than we are with computers and bar code scanners.

  • Steve says:

    1)The U.S. army ALREADY has anti-rpg that works great- e.g the slat armor, as well as special armor blocks on the TUSK kit abrams. 2)The trophy system, as well as similar Russian systems are incredibly dangerous to bystanders as they fire shrapnel/bullets out. 3)The need is for a system that is non-lethal to dismounted infantry/civilians and lighter then the current system. 4)The press is disgustingly uniformed about defense technology. Their ignorance is only matched by there arrogance; resulting in spectacularly idiotic and false army bashing.

  • Big D says:

    The most promising APS that I’ve heard about is Iron Fist, which is basically Trophy with a blast-only warhead and a cardboard case. Assuming that it works as well, of course. Now, what I really want to know is, what happened to that Brit passive electric armor that they showed in 2002? Was that all just fake tests for a psy-op?

  • Todd Trantham says:

    So what can we wee folks due to help get the military to adopt a working system rather than drag their feet and promote certain contractors like Raytheon and waste time and the lives of our troops

  • Gary Janssen says:

    Slat armor is wonderful, that’s why we call it a skirt. It leaves your butt in the wind with a good blow. Trophy is not dangerous to puppy dogs or bystanders. The only danger if one of the 2 pieces of the RPG lands on your foot The wrong folks in the Army were bashed, i.e. Colonel Kochman. He was hung out to dry by the upper echelon who make moronic decisions to help their ex-buddies instead of protecting their soldiers. Where do you thing the Colonel is now? General Dynamics because he knows a winner when he sees them.

  • Lamont says:

    The Trophy has an EXTREMELY small kill zone… 10m-30m. Keep in mind it’s firing pellets, not spraying 7.62 rounds, that MAY pepper soldiers wearing body armor within that kill zone. Metal Storm fires rounds much larger than BBs, but smaller than the 5.56. Regardless, it is firing rounds hard/fast enough to penetrate and shred an incoming projectile. I’m sure it can penetrate and shred humans. A Stryker cannot fit into a C-130 with slat in place, and certainly a beefed-up Abrams won’t fit. Slat must be put on only after the vehicle is on the ground. Also, slat is not effective against HE and frag rounds, which detonate before impact. Slat is ineffective against kinetic rounds, like a 105mm shell. TROPHY, and other active protection systems, are being (and have been) designed to address all of these issues. Sure, RPGs and mortars weren’t developed yesterday. However, it is only lately that computers have gotten small enough, fast enough, and cheap enough to make things like APS happen. Instead of looking at what is on the table NOW, we should be looking at where this is HEADING. Sure, we’ll use what is available for now, but it is far from being a ‘finished product.’ There are currently NO 100% solutions. But even 50% means half of the incidents. Current systems are 80% and over. Be happy.

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