The US Army relaunches the competition to equip its Strykers with a Hard-Kill system

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Until the early 2000s, the US Army only had heavy means to transport its infantry forces, such as the M113 armored personnel carrier and the M2/3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, or unprotected vehicles. But in 1999, the Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Erick Shinseki, made the decision to shield all movements of combat forces, following the example of what the Army of French territory in the 80s with the entry into service of the Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé, the famous VAB, which worked wonders during the Gulf War, and showed excellent qualities in Yugoslavia or Lebanon. At the beginning of 2000, a $4 billion order was launched to produce more than 2000 Stryker armored vehicles, intended to become the backbone of the American light brigades, which will also take the name “Stryker Brigades”.

This 8x8 armored vehicle, 7 meters long and 2,65m high, initially reached a combat mass of 16 tonnes, with the capacity to transport up to 9 armed men, in addition to its crew of 2 people. Its 350 hp engine propels it to more than 90 km/h, with a range of 500 km. It is air transportable by C5, C17 or C130 aircraft, and in its troop transport version, is armed with a 12,7 mm manual machine gun. The Stryker arrived at the right time for American commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it provided significant added value in addition to Bradleys and Humvees, but it quickly proved that it was relatively vulnerable, whether to anti-tank rockets as well as IEDs, improvised explosive devices widely used in guerrilla operations. Versions of the Stryker then appeared with a V-shaped hull to resist IEDs, and/or equipped with anti-rocket mesh. In addition, the firepower also proved to be too weak, and the US Army then began to design a version equipped with a remotely operated 30 mm turret, giving birth to the Stryker Dragoon.

Stryker dragoon Defense Analysis | Construction of armored vehicles | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The Stryker Dragoon equipped with a 30 mm cannon

But each of these modifications came at the cost of hundreds of kilos of additional equipment, gradually increasing the mass of the Stryker from 16 to more than 18 tonnes, effectively hindering its all-terrain mobility. Therefore, when in 2017, the US Army decided, for strengthen its high-intensity engagement capabilities, to equip all of its line armored vehicles with an active protection system against missiles and anti-tank rockets, often referred to as Hard-Kill, the models proposed by German manufacturers (Rheinmetall) and Israelis (Rafael, IMI) prove too heavy to equip the Stryker without compromising its mobility beyond reason. The competition was therefore postponed to June 2019, without any winner being designated, while the Rafael Trophy and the Iron Fist from IMI Systems were selected to equip respectively the M1 Abrams and the M2/3 Bradley.

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But the US Army does not intend to stop there, since it has justaward an $11 million contract to German Rheinmetall in partnership with the American Unified Business Technologies to supply and test its hard-kill Strikeshield APS System on Stryker, while a similar amount was allocated to the Israeli Rafael and its American partner DRS for the Trophy VPS system, a light version of APS Trophy equipping the M1 Abrams. The equipment must be delivered in October 2020 to the test center in Huntsville, Alabama, for a 6-month test campaign which will take place throughout 2021. With more than 4000 Strykers in service in the US Army, the market The potential for manufacturers is considerable, even if, as with the Abrams and the Bradley, this is only a temporary solution pending the development of a unified protection suite for US armored vehicles currently in development.

abrams trophy Defense Analysis | Construction of armored vehicles | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
US Army and Marine Corps M1 Abrams will be equipped with Raphael's Trophy APS system

Advances in anti-tank systems, whether rockets or guided missiles, pose a very significant threat to the armored vehicles engaged on the front line today. And the arrival of new generation missiles, such as the French MMP capable of being fired from cover and detecting its target, 5 km away, after launch, will further strengthen this threat. The critical setbacks of the Russian columns against the Chechen infantry at Grosny in 1995, or those which nevertheless performed very well Leopard 2 Turkish A4s during the first intervention in Syria in 2018, are the characterization. Once the adversary has access to such systems, armored vehicles become very vulnerable, notwithstanding their essential dimension for any offensive action. The General Staffs are now striving to increase the survivability of their armored vehicles by relying on several new technologies, such as composite armor, reactive armor plates which explode when struck by a missile and neutralize the hollow charge of the projectile, anti-rocket grilles which detonate the warheads before reaching the crate. But it is the soft-kill and hard-kill systems that represent the greatest defensive potential.

Soft-kill systems are designed to prevent fire from taking place, or to decoy it so that it does not threaten the armored vehicle. They rely on advanced detection systems such as laser aiming detectors, electromagnetic and infrared detectors, as well as on effectors, such as jamming lasers, electromagnetic countermeasures, smoke bombs masking the infrared and optical signature of the armored. Hard-kill systems are designed to detect an effective threat, such as a missile or rocket, and intercept and destroy it with a pyrotechnic device before it hits the armored vehicle. Most of the time, these are explosive munitions propelled towards the threat to explode nearby, and thus destroy it.

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Close-up APS Afghanit Defense Analysis | Construction of armored vehicles | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
Close-up on the Afghanit hard-kill system protecting the Russian T14 Armata

These systems were first designed and deployed by the Israeli army on its Merkava tanks in the late 2000s, with very significant results. Since then, several armed forces have undertaken to equip themselves with these systems, such as Russia with the Afghanit system which will protect all new generation armored vehicles of Russian invoice and the Arena-M system for the protection of modernized armored vehicles, But also China, Japan, South Korea. In Europe, Germany and the Netherlands have undertaken to equip their battle tanks with such devices. On the other hand, in France, the acquisition of hard-kill systems is not planned, neither for the new VBMR Griffon and EBRC Jaguar intermediate armored vehicles, nor for the Scorpion modernization of the 200 Leclerc tanks remaining in service. This is, without the slightest doubt, an error which risks costing the French armies much more than the several hundred million euros saved by making such an impasse....

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