In 2006, Israel sent its top-tier Merkava tanks to fight against largely unarmored Hezbollah divisions, but they still faced considerable losses owing to the proliferation of advanced anti-tank rounds, many of which originated in Russia.
Fast forward to the 2014 Gaza conflict with Hamas. Despite Hamas having similar weapons and backing, not a single Merkava or Israeli armoured fighting vehicle was lost. The reason being that Israel had perfected the Trophy Active Protection System (APS) to defend it’s tanks.
The US, on the other hand, has not faced a peer or near-peer adversary in ground combat in decades, and as a reflection of that the US’s main combat tank, the M1 Abrams, lacks an APS.
Today, limited US forces advise and assist forces in Syria, where no fewer than eight anti-tank missile systems are in play, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.
The most worrisome of these systems originate in Russia, and use clever means to defeat tank armour systems. This highlights the need for the US to modernise it’s armoured fighting vehicle defences.
But finding an APS for the US Army and Marine Corps’ global ground force is fraught with difficulties. Even if the US were to buy and deploy Israel’s tested Trophy system, there are many additional considerations to be made.
The Marines, for instance, need an APS that can be deployed on boats, and resist salt water corrosion. The systems, with their advanced sensors needed to detect and destroy incoming threats in the blinding speed of real time conflict, may interfere with each other or malfunction.
Because the systems need to operate in milliseconds, no human can deploy them. Therefore they need to be automated, and therefore collateral damage is a real risk. APS uses a hail of shrapnel to thwart incoming rockets, turning the area outside the tank into a hellscape of throbbing explosions and flying debris that could potentially shred friendly troops alongside the tank.
Because of the US’s high standards of protecting lives and property, public and private, they must come up with a satisfactory solution to these issues.
Meanwhile Russia claims to have developed the T-14 Armata, a truly next generation tank fitted with a bigger gun, better armour, and APS all around.
While there is reason to doubt the overall capabilities of the T-14, anti-tank weapons systems are proven to be effective, and proven to be in the hands of militias around the world.
For the US to retain its asymmetrical advantage in ground warfare, as it has done for decades, the issue of protecting armoured vehicles must be addressed.