Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Firepower-Protection Race Continues

Should Russia's new Armata tank with its active protection system worry NATO?

Active protection systems (APS) are being built into Russia's new Armata T-14 tank, posing a problem for a whole generation of anti-armour weapons, not least the US-supplied Javelin guided missile, used by the Norwegian Army.

The warning comes from Brig Ben Barry of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. He says this is a problem that most Nato countries have barely begun to grapple with.

APS threatens to make existing anti-tank weapons far less effective, and there is little real discussion of this among many Western militaries, he says.

The Russians pioneered this technology in the 1980s to counter the proliferation of more effective anti-tank missiles in NATO. But it wasn't deployed.

So assuming it isnt a Potemkin Tank, I guess one question is whether Russia can afford to build the Armata. I suspect the answer is no given the resources being put into upgrading T-80s (noted in this data dump).

Russia is not in good financial shape to put many Armata--if it works--into service.

In general, active protection systems that work are a problem to be overcome. But I don't see them as the final word in the race between tank survivability and the ability to kill tanks.

If APS works, logically you could lighten a vehicle by thinning the passive armor. But I don't think that APS can replace bulky and heavy armor because there are other ways to kill a vehicle protected by APS.

Surely, better minds than mine in the armored vehicle field have considered how to defeat APS that will have ammunition limits and limits on how many incoming rounds it can cope with.

Here are options off the top of my head.

What if anti-tank weapons fired by infantry use a "round" that drops a crawling smart mine outside of the range of the APS that then moves under the tank to explode against thin bottom armor?

Top-attack missiles were designed to cope with effective passive armor. APS counters top-attack missiles. Why not bottom-attack weapons?

Maybe the "round" fired is a one-shot weapon dropped outside of the APS radius that crawls forward to fire a HEAT round at the tank within the minimum firing range of the APS? 

Maybe volley fire is possible from a single tank gun in the 130-140mm range fires an anti-tank round that fires a half dozen penetrator rods each with different shapes to retard their flight in order to fire a "train" of rods that reach the target one after the other, making the defending APS fire at the early arriving rod only to let the following rods fly in unopposed by an APS still cycling for another salvo.

Even if the APS can kill 5 of the rods, the sixth would kill the tank if the velocity is high enough.

Worry, yes. But work the problem.

And any problem we have coping with APS should be a problem our enemies have. Why we aren't more ambitious about APS on our armored vehicles is a mystery.

UPDATE: It looks like APS is coming to an Abrams near you:

For the past few months, Army leaders have been openly touting the service's accelerated effort to arm the M1 Abrams tank and other key platforms with APS technology to counter the proliferation of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and Russia's aggressive modernization of its armored fleet.

Good. It doesn't win the race. But it keeps our tanks in the race, at least.