Walsh: Marines May Protect Tanks With Active and EW Protection Systems, Much Like Ship Self-Defense

April 14, 2016 6:30 AM - Updated: April 14, 2016 7:18 AM
Cpl. Henry Estrada a gunner with 1st Tank Battalion from Lewisville, Texas, guides an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank off the Landing Craft Air Cushion during rail operations at Dogu Beach, Republic of Korea, on March 15, 2016. US Marine Corps Photo
Cpl. Henry Estrada a gunner with 1st Tank Battalion from Lewisville, Texas, guides an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank off the Landing Craft Air Cushion during rail operations at Dogu Beach, Republic of Korea, on March 15, 2016. US Marine Corps Photo

As anti-tank threats are growing increasingly sophisticated, the Marine Corps is looking at protecting its ground vehicles with active protection and electronic warfare systems to fend off incoming rounds the same way ships and planes do today.

Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commandant for combat development and integration, said at a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that as technology proliferates, the anti-tank threat is rapidly evolving. The Navy is investing in protecting its ships and aircraft from similar threats, and Walsh said it’s time for the Marine Corps to take the same approach for its ground vehicles.

“When we start getting threats on our aircraft, our helicopters, our fixed wing aircraft, [from] infrared missiles, we quickly put out a capability to defeat those types of missiles,” he said.
“Now we’re seeing the threat on the ground changing, becoming a much more sophisticated threat on the ground. What we’ve continued to do is up-armor our capabilities on the ground, put armor on them. We’ve got to start thinking more with a higher technology capability, with vehicle protective systems, active protective systems that can defeat anti-tank guided munitions, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) … along with soft capability, which is the technology our aircraft have.”

To that end, the Marine Corps is partnering with the Army to test out the Israeli Trophy Active Protection System (APS). The Army is leasing four systems and will experiment with their Stryker combat vehicle and M1A2 tanks. The Marine Corps is currently modifying some of its M1A1 tanks to install mounts for the Trophy system, and the service will later work with the Army to test the protective system on the Marine tanks against anti-tank guided missiles and RPGs, he told USNI News after the hearing.

The Trophy system has both an active and a soft component. When sensors detect an incoming threat, the active system fires small rounds to deflect the threat, Walsh said, noting that “when they’re going that fast, it doesn’t take much to deflect them away.”

The soft side uses jammers in the same way ship and aircraft self-protection systems do.

“The anti-ship missiles are getting better and better, so the Navy’s having to continue to put better capabilities on the ships to be able to defeat it,” he said, with the Marine Corps now seeing those same advances in anti-tank technologies.
“I think that’s the side we’re really going to benefit from the Navy capabilities, because the Navy has some very good EW (electronic warfare) capabilities. So getting into our warfare centers and working with the Navy on how to get better at electronic warfare capabilities, that’s the soft side of it.”

Walsh added that the Marines are also investing in unmanned aerial systems to help with reconnaissance, to try to find the enemy before they can launch missiles at American tanks. Even with more eyes in the sky, the enemy will still be able to fire off shots, and Walsh said the Marines need to do better than simply adding more armor to protect personnel inside from blasts.

With all the extra armor, the vehicles are getting so heavy that mobility is suffering, he said.

“And certainly being with the Navy, coming from the sea, we want to be able to be lighter and quicker,” Walsh said.
“And so I think technology is getting smaller – we talk about that all the time – the technology and processors are getting smaller to allow us to put it … on each individual vehicle in the future.”

More broadly, Walsh said at the hearing that the Marine Corps is in the midst of conducting a force structure assessment to understand what type of force and of what size it will need to succeed in the future operating environment, much like the Navy is conducting an FSA to inform future ship count requirements.

“In fact I just left the commandant and senior leadership just before I came over here, and we’re conducting our force structure assessment, and it’s all projecting into that future operating environment,” Walsh told the senators.
“And we see this as probably the most complex operating environment, both at the lower end of the spectrum and certainly at the higher end of the spectrum. And we have not really seen since the Cold War these types of capabilities, when you start getting into precision weapons, ability to sense the area and also working in the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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