US Army tanks get futuristic shields to destroy incoming threats

U.S. Army M1 Abrams tanks are being upgraded with a sort of invisible shield that will destroy incoming antitank missiles and other threats before reaching the tank.

Known as Trophy, this cutting-edge technology will provide M1 Abrams tanks with 360 degree protection from threats.

Since the 1950s, the Army has been determined to give tanks something called “active protection systems.” The goal of these sorts of systems is to stop incoming projectiles before they reach the tank – creating a sort of invisible shield around them.

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The Army has chosen Raphael’s tech to upgrade 261 M1 Abrams tanks with Israeli-made Trophy active-protection systems. For nearly a decade, Trophy has already been protecting Israel Defense Force Merkava main battle tanks and relied on in conflicts in the Gaza Strip for example. Now approximately 3 brigades worth of U.S. tanks will also bring Trophy into battles.

Several relevant militaries have already equipped some of their tanks with active protection systems. Russia is one country that has been aggressively ramping up their tanks and other assets with active protection systems like Trophy. They’ve also armed them with a deep arsenal of anti-armor weapons that can seriously damage or destroy the targeted tank in spite of its armor.

And the U.S.? In addition to the iconic Abrams tank, the Army is upgrading a number of other combat vehicles. The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is expected to provide a significant improvement. This latest version of Abrams delivers a better hull armor and turrets. They also feature enhanced radio systems and power generation amongst other enhancements.

For example, should a conflict erupt with Russia, then American tanks absolutely must be prepared to counter Russian firepower. Trophy is an important step to better protect American soldiers and match adversary capabilities.

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Army tank2 - credit Army

 (Credit: U.S. Army)

What is Trophy?

The Trophy Active Protection system, aka “Windbreaker," gives tanks 360 degrees coverage. The system includes four antennas and two rotating launchers mounted on the tank.

If an enemy launches a weapon, like an anti-tank missile, at a U.S. Army tank protected with Trophy, radar or sensors recognize and locate the incoming threat. Tracking radar identifies what kind of threat has been launched at the tank. It distinguishes a rocket from an anti-tank missile, for example.

Trophy instantaneously works out where the weapon would strike. If the missile will strike the tank, then it swings into action to protect the soldiers.

The system figures out the necessary firing angles to intercept the incoming weapon. The computers relay the firing angles to the two launchers positioned on either side of the tank. The launchers rotate to the correct position and fire a countermeasure.

The counter-measure intercepts the anti-tank missile aimed at the U.S. Army and destroys it at a distance before it can reach the tank.

One countermeasure option can be a sort of giant, powerful shotgun loaded with buckshot approach. Trophy can fire canisters filled with ball-bearings at the enemy projectile to defeat it.

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Invisible shields

Active projection systems create a sort of protective bubble around a tank. Systems like Trophy aim to prevent any incoming threat from getting close to the tank and stop them at a distance away from it. To do so, systems like Trophy use visible countermeasures like the canisters.

Another countermeasure in development to fortify this shield around the tank is entirely invisible. Electromagnetic signals can be fired off to interfere with incoming threats and against prevent them from penetrating this protective bubble and reaching the tank.

One concern is the detonation of threats in the battlespace.

If Trophy fires a countermeasure and the enemy missile for example is detonated, then safety for those outside the tank could be an issue. While it may not pierce that protective bubble around the tank and successfully prevent Soldiers inside from being wounded, the detonation of the enemy weapon outside the bubble could put nearby dismounted troops at risk.

During the past couple of years, the Army leased and purchased some Trophies to test and investigate and resolve these sorts of concerns before moving forward with the large-scale Trophy upgrades to their M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

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Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.