Home » News & Analysis » Walsh: Marines May Protect Tanks With Active and EW Protection Systems, Much Like Ship Self-Defense

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

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.”

  • Davey W

    If the Marines are looking for a lighter tank to operate from the sea then why not look at something like the Japanese Type 10? Fit the Trophy APS to the Type 10 and you have the punch of a tank and a level of crew protection that’s still likely to be 15-17t lighter than the Abrams.

    • Voice_of_Reason

      Because trophy won’t protect against an incredibly dense and heavy long rod penetrator moving at 1 mile per second.

      For that you need old fashioned armor.

      Note, for example, that the Israeli IFVs like Namer are as heavily armored as MBTs and much more heavily armored than a Bradley, which is in turn much more heavily armored than marine AAVs or their replacements. if all you needed was trophy, you’d think the Israelis would just buy their own system and put it on lightly armored vehicles.

      • Davey W

        I don’t disagree on the technical aspects of what you are saying for a minute. Where I’m addressing my comments was in relation to the issue of weight. I don’t see the need to replace every Marine MBT with a mid weight tank more so I think it’s a matter of horses for courses.
        If all the extra weight of bolt on armour is hindering mobility and it may well on tropical islands with dense foliage, limited or nonexistent roads and bridges, water logged ground etc what platform do you send into the grinder when Marines are pinned down by a bunker, strong point or otherwise well constructed defensive ambush?
        For mine if you can you would want to push a tank or two in (depending on the situation) to subdue the enemy which is why the Marines need tanks but do they all need to be 70t Goliaths? Enemy armour can and really should be dealt with as best it can be by air assets from the outset.
        So when the prospect of encountering enemy tanks is signifantly reduced and the likely threat is from RPG’s, ATGW’s or heavy squad support weapons, I would suggest a mid weight tank might be a useful addition to overall capabilities.

        • Secundius

          There is a Report about a Restudy Program on the “Stingray” Tank as a USMC Light/Medium Tank. Approximately 35-tons lighter, Gun has yet to be Determined…

        • Voice_of_Reason

          one could look at the EFV as a light amphibious tank, but of course as often happens, unlimited appetite for “more performance” killed the program.

  • Voice_of_Reason

    the marines only have about 3 battalions of tanks. that’s a small number.

    • Ed L

      That’s why the marines use the army’s Now myself I wish they had bought Merkava’s 3 MG’s 1 mortar, One Main Gun. Plus room for 6 Marines inside.

  • John Locke

    tanks are obsolete

    • Michael Rich

      Which is why every half decent country is still developing and deploying new ones.

  • Ed L

    Like the new Russian T-14. But with s Crew of 3. Unmanned turret. Active Defense system against RPG. Missiles etc And later might be fitted with a 152 mm system I favor the Israeli Merkava mk 4 Crew of 4 and it can carry its own infantry support. 10 Merkava. With 60 infantry inside safe and Sound. Built in mortars. I have seen earlier models The Marine tankers I was with thought the Merkava was cool We can thank the is Israeli’s for the trophy system

    • Secundius

      Blind Spot! T-14 Armata has a Blind Spot, in which anything smaller than 37mm in diameter can’t be detected. The Silver Bullet of the M1 Abrams is ~22mm in diameter. Also the Penetration Rod of a Tow Missile is far enough of the missile. That it will impact the Tanks Hull before the Missile Itself Is Detected…

      • Ed L

        True. but I belief most anti tank missiles are larger than 37mm in diameter But isn’t that speculation? Has One of our TOW missiles ever been tested against a T-14? Now against a Sabot I never heard of much that could stop a Sabot. But then being on thin skins gators. A 25mm round would give us heartburn. Oh have you ever got a chance to look over a Mekava armored fighting vehicle? Really impressive or at least the Marine tankers i was with thought so. Off Lebanon we were always worry about the numberous amounts of artillery and armor that could be trained on us

        • Secundius

          The Penetration Rod itself is about ~27mm in diameter with the Stabilizing Fins and ~35-inches Long. Hope you Guy’s have PLENTY of Zantac, You’re Going To Need It…

          • Ed L

            Give me a Merkava short range but battle tested

          • Secundius

            WHY? The Merkava, doesn’t have EITHER Chobham Armor or Depleted-Uranium Armor…

          • Ed L

            Merkava Mk-4, the ballistic protection is modular and provides more effective protection against modern threats, involving both protection efficiency and coverage area. Above all, the ballistic protection includes roof protection, which provides a capability against overhead attacks. Unlike most Tanks, the Merkava primary design criteria was crew survivability. Every part of the overall design is expected to contribute to helping the crew survive. The engine is in the front to provide protection to the crew. There is a special protective umbrella for the tank commander to enable protection from indirect fire with the hatches open. A nice feature for urban warfare. Special “spaced armor” is in use along with protected fuel and ammo compartments. Rear ammunition stowage is combined with a rear entrance and exit.

          • Secundius

            What is “Spaced Armor” going to do against a Depleted-Uranium Spike 27mm in Diameter and ~35-inches Long. Unless there’s Something to Disperse or Absorb the Plasma of the Kinetic Energy Spike, It has Virtually NO VALUE…

          • John Allard

            Just curious, what’s the difference? I thought Chobham armor, DU armor, and Burlington armor were one in the same?

          • Secundius

            Density in the Case of Depleted Uranium, “Composition” in the Case of Chobham. Chobham is manufactured in Burlington, Surrey, England, IT’s the SAME Armor. It’s Also Known As “Dorchester” Armor.

            England “Subdivides” it’s Addresses to Bailiwicks (Neighborhood’s) Townships, City’s, Counties, and Country. Talkabout Confusion…

    • old guy

      RIGHT ON. However robotic tanks are much better for most assaults. More compact, more ammo. lower profile, more firepower.

  • oleg7700

    Combination with Iron Fist[edit]

    In December 2014, it was revealed that Rafael, IAI, and Israel Military Industries had agreed to jointly develop a next-generation active defense system for vehicles, based on a combination of the Rafael/IAI Trophy and IMI Iron Fist. Rafael will act as the main contractor and system developer and integrator, and IAI and IMI will be subcontractors providing the radar and interceptor respectively. Unlike the Trophy’s interception method of metal pellets that spread over a wide area, IMI’s interceptor is based on an anti-missile missile. Interest for a vehicle APS grew significantly following Trophy’s successful performance during Operation Protective Edge in mid-2014, where dozens of tanks equipped with the system suffered no injuries or false alarms. The Defense Ministry had pushed the companies to work together and combine their systems.[9]