LIVONIA, Mich. --- Ever since the advent of wheeled and tracked tactical vehicles, better protection has meant more armor with a tradeoff in speed and weight, said Col. Kevin Vanyo.
"Today, we need to adapt differently to threats, not just by adding more armor," he said, noting that the Abrams tank today is so heavy, transporting it is a problem and many bridges are not strong enough to support its weight.
With weapons becoming more potent, adding more armor just isn't feasible, he added. A new approach is needed.
Vanyo, program manager for Emerging Capabilities, U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development, and Engineering Center, known as TARDEC, spoke Dec. 1 at the Future Ground Combat Vehicle Summit.
Armor plating that protects Soldiers inside vehicles is known as "passive protection," because it doesn't do anything except deflect or absorb blasts and projectiles.
Active protection systems, or APS, is what Vanyo and his team are advocating, developing and eventually hoping to field.
The PM explained that active protection measures are a suite of responses that will increase survivability of the platforms and those inside.
The measures can be grouped into two categories, he explained: hard kill and soft kill. Soft kill measures include sensors that can detect signatures from weapons and then interfere with those weapons using electro-magnetic countermeasures. Hard kill refers to physical countermeasures such as blast or projectiles that destroy or divert incoming fire.
The near-term effort to develop hard kill and soft kill countermeasures is a program known as Modular Active Protection System, or MAPS, he said.
Unfortunately, there's been a lot of misunderstanding about MAPS, Vanyo said, and a lot of that has to do with the name.
"MAPS is a framework for a modular, open-systems architecture. It is not an active protection system," he said, explaining that this framework consists of the controller software and hardware that will allow the active protection system to function once it is developed.
The Army is pursing three variants of MAPS, he said: Trophy APS, for use on the Abrams; Iron Curtain APS, for use on the Stryker; and Iron Fist APS, for use on the Bradley.
It is hoped that Trophy APS will be fielded by 2020, he said. Regarding the other two variants, a decision will be made during the second quarter of fiscal year 2018.
Maj. Gen. John Charlton, commander, Army Test and Evaluation Command, agreed that mixing an active with a passive protection system is the way to go.
Even with all of its armor, "it's amazing what an explosively-formed projectile can do to a 78-ton Abrams," he said, having witnessed the damage at his Alabama test center facility in Redstone Arsenal.
Personnel at the arsenal are working on developing an APS and are testing various systems that can be fielded once MAPS has matured.
The concern right now, he said, is understanding the signal that APS produces and if that signal might interfere with other vehicle software or provide its own signature that could be picked up by enemy sensors.
Getting APS right will involve pooling engineers from across the Army and other service laboratories, along with help from industry, he said, adding that he hopes to see Soldier testing in as little as two years.