FCS Active Protection System in 'Top 50' inventions

By John R. GuardianoNovember 17, 2008

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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 17, 2008) -- The Army's new Active Protection System, which is designed to safeguard Soldiers and vehicles from incoming fire, has been named one of the best inventions of 2008 by Time magazine.

"Think of [it] as Star Wars for Soldiers," said Time magazine in its Nov. 10 edition. The APS "will automatically detect an incoming round and then launch a missile to destroy it, all within a split second."

The Army is developing APS as part of its Future Combat Systems ground-force modernization program. FCS is designed to bring Soldiers into the 21st century by equipping them with state-of-the-art vehicles, communication capabilities, sensors and protective systems.

The APS is actually part of a more comprehensive "hit-avoidance system" that the Army is building into a suite of eight new FCS Manned Ground Vehicles types. This more comprehensive hit-avoidance system will give the Soldiers in the MGVs "full-scale 360-degree hemispherical protection," said FCS Program Manager Maj. Gen. Charles A. Cartwright.

Current Army vehicles lack this level of protection because, he said, they were designed more than a generation ago, before the information technology revolution of the past quarter-century.

Metastasizing Threats

According to the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, American servicemen and women face a proliferating array of new and more sophisticated threats, which, if not addressed, will jeopardize American lives and mission success.

"The threats are getting more dangerous," said TRADOC's Deputy Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Vane. "Technology proliferation is creating a dangerous mix of state-of-the-art technology, radical extremists, and irregular tactics.

"Future Combat Systems, the MGVs, the hit-avoidance system, APS," he added Aca,!aEURc Aca,!A"these all will protect our Soldiers against a variety of changing threats and address current force limitations."

The Army's Active Protection System is still in development, but has proven itself in live-fire testing. Hit-avoidance prototypes, moreover, are scheduled for delivery in 2011, said Maj. Lewis Phillips, assistant product manager.

Current-Force Limitations

In the meantime, elements of the FCS survivability system are being incorporated into current Army vehicles on a limited basis. Because of inherent design limitations due to their age, current Army vehicles cannot accommodate a comprehensive hit-avoidance system, officials said.

In addition to being equipped with active protection, the new Army vehicles, or MGVs, also are being designed with an independent hull structure, in which armor is bolted onto the vehicle. This allows for frequent armor upgrades to accommodate technological advances.

The armor on current-force vehicles, by contrast, is integrated throughout the structure of the vehicle. Current force vehicles, consequently, have a very limited ability to accommodate better and more modern armor protection, officials said.

IED Protection

Current-force vehicles Aca,!aEURc the Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, and Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle Aca,!aEURc also were not specifically designed to withstand attack from Improvised Explosive Devices.

The new FCS vehicles, by contrast, are being designed with a v-shaped hull, specifically to help diffuse IED blasts. And the seating inside the MGVs will be suspended from the ceiling of the vehicle to further reduce the shock and trauma of an IED blast.

Army officials said this is significant because, for many of America's enemies, IEDs have become the weapon of choice.

IED attacks, in fact, account for the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and are a leading cause of brain injury to American servicemen and women. By separating occupants from the floor of the vehicle, which absorbs the blast, Soldiers will suffer much less trauma and injury, Army officials said.

Quick Kill

The FCS Active Protection System is being developed by Raytheon. Raytheon won the contract from the FCS program after participating in an open competition that involved other key competitors and competitor systems.

A team of 21 technical experts from various U.S. government agencies, the Army and private-sector industry evaluated competing Active Protection Systems. According to the Government Accountability Office, the team reached "a clear consensus... [that] Raytheon's Quick-Kill system was the best alternative."

Army officials said that one key advantage of the Raytheon APS is its vertical launch system, which protects against top-attack rounds. They said this gives Soldiers true 360-degree hemispherical protection.

The FCS Active Protection System "is the only available vertical launch system that I'm aware of," Lewis said. Other Active Protection Systems out on the market employ horizontal launch systems and thus do not provide total vehicular protection.

A vertical launch system, Phillips said, allows for redundant protection from all sides of the vehicle. One countermeasure situated anywhere on the vehicle can defeat any incoming round. Horizontal launch systems lack this capability, Phillips said.

(John Guardiano serves in the Plans Division of Army Public Affairs and is a frequent contributor to the Army News Service.)

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