Press commentary: Passive or active protection – which option is best?

Providing the best-possible protection for troops and materiel deployed in harm’s way has become a top priority for procurement planners. Yet protection comes at a price. Budgetary constraints pose new challenges when procuring protection systems, especially those intended for tracked and wheeled armoured vehicles. Choosing the right protection system depends on the type of threat. Shortly after the start of international operations in Afghanistan, the number of attacks by Taliban fighters using armour-piercing weapons (IEDs, RPGs and explosively formed projectiles) on ISAF troops nearly tripled. This ever-present threat quickly led to a search for ways in which active and reactive protection mechanisms could be used to better protect armoured vehicles. However, the more effective direct and indirect protection mechanisms become, the greater the effort to create armour-piercing munitions capable of defeating them.

Passive protection systems have reached their performance limits

Effective passive protection is always a question of weight, with major implications for the vehicle’s engine requirements and other mobility factors. The fact that passive solutions such as the AMAP-M mine protection system developed by IBD Deisenroth and produced by Rheinmetall Chempro actually work was demonstrated on 3 June 2005, when a Bundeswehr Allschutz transport ran over an antitank mine near Kabul. The detonation of the 6-kg explosive charge blew off the vehicle’s right front wheel and seriously damaged the frame. But the crew survived the incident virtually unscathed. The AMAP-M mine protection system mounted to the vehicle’s undercarriage did an excellent job of shielding the safety cell from the effects of the blast.

However, subsequent events in Afghanistan prove that protected vehicles no longer offer adequate protection from landmines, explosively formed projectiles or antitank rounds. The defence industry is working to counter this threat by using innovative lightweight composite armour. Here, silicon carbide (SiC) and boron carbide (B4C) play an increasingly important part in composite armour systems. In Germany and elsewhere, numerous manufacturers are active in this field.

With regard to armour materials in general, a shift to “material tailoring” has become evident, in which specific made-to-measure characteristics at the microscopic and macroscopic level are sought. This involves the use of innovative ingredients such as nanocrystalline materials. A good example of this is the AMAP protection system, with its multifaceted expansion stages, which is partially based on ceramic nanoparticles, enabling lightweight yet powerful armour protection. Particle- and fibre-reinforced ceramics are a promising means of reducing collateral damage inside the armoured interior. They protect the crew from small arms fire as well as mortar and artillery shrapnel and landmines.

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Retrofitting of protection components

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Rheinmetall Defence’s ROSY (“Rapid Obscuring System”) 360° smoke/obscurant protection system can also be retrofitted. When a vehicle comes under attack, ROSY uses 40mm smoke/obscurant projectiles to create a roughly 30- to 32-metre-long wall of smoke/obscurant. It works by concealing the vehicle from hostile fire: ROSY offers protection against TV-, EO-, IR-, IIR-, Laser- and SACLOS-guided antitank weapons. Unlike conventional smoke/obscurant systems, it not only creates an instantaneous, extensive, multispectral interruption of the line of sight in just 0.6 seconds, but also produces a dynamic wall of smoke/obscurant capable of shielding a moving vehicle from multiple assaults. The Bundeswehr intends to equip up to 500 protected vehicles with this system.

One response to contemporary threats: active protection systems

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AMAP-ADS, a hard-kill system made by ADS Gesellschaft für aktive Schutzsysteme mbH of Germany, does not use explosive charges to intercept incoming projectiles. Instead, it employs directed energy. A joint venture of IBD Deisenroth and Rheinmetall Defence, ADS stresses that AMAP-ADS needs only about 600 microseconds to detect and neutralize an incoming threat. Each one of the optoelectronic sensors mounted on the vehicle is assigned to its own interceptor device, with overlapping sensor zones assuring coverage of a specific section of the vehicle. If the same spot is fired on again, the neighbouring sensor can take over protection of this element, instantly intercepting the second projectile. Interception occurs at a standoff of just 2 m away from the defending vehicle, with the energy beam aimed at the most vulnerable part of the incoming projectile.

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Source: Stefan Nitschke; Wehrtechnik, Edition III/2013

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