WASHINGTON — Defense contractor Artis is unveiling an active protection system it says addresses a gap the U.S. Army and other forces want to fill: defense against attacks from above.
The agency years ago evaluated the company’s Iron Curtain active protection system for combat vehicles, but never adopted the technology. Now, Artis is introducing its third-generation Sentinel APS that the company said is capable of defeating so-called leading edge attack threats.
Artis said it has demonstrated that Sentinel can protect vehicles and infrastructure from nearly all direct fire threats, including fire from tanks, guided anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and munitions — otherwise known as explosive drones, which target vehicles and infantry alike. often with fatal results.
The Army launched an effort in 2016 to rapidly develop interim solutions to protect Abrams tanks, Stryker fighting vehicles and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The service followed options through a demonstration phase.
The Army had selected Iron Curtain as an interim protection system for the Stryker in 2017, but decided not to field the system after the testing and demonstration phase in 2018. Service leaders said at the time that while Iron Curtain worked in concept, it would need too much time and money to mature the system.
The Virginia-based business has spent 20 years perfecting and expanding a capability flexible enough to handle nearly any threat to combat vehicles, including leading-edge attack threats, well before the war in Ukraine and the use of roving ammunition underscored the need for such strong protection.
What can the Guard do?
The Army did not require any active protection system under consideration as a temporary solution to address threats from above. the service focused exclusively on protecting the sides of tanks and vehicles. But the leadership has turned to countering top-line attack threats after seeing their proliferation in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Artis’ developed its first design to protect against leading-edge attacks through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency around 2008, company president Keith Brendley told Defense News. Since then, the company has continued to work on the design through investors. But the Sentinel capability gained significant traction through a contract with the Army’s Office of Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies, awarded shortly after the agency rejected the Iron Curtain for the Stryker, he explained.
Artis completed work with the office in June 2023.
“The focus was not on top attack. it was sabotage shots and threats with chain weapons,” Brendley said of the company’s cooperation with the Army office. “So not only can Sentinel defeat top assault threats, but we can also defeat tank rounds, sabotage rounds, things of that nature.”
Sabot rounds are metal rods that can pierce armor and explode, spraying metal fragments.
According to Brendley, developing technology to neutralize threats such as chain weapons is challenging and requires an array of sensors, radars and highly lethal missiles.
“The Sentinel is an affordable APS solution that provides substantial multi-shot protection, excellent short-range performance and very low collateral damage, which make[s] it is ideal for both open terrain and close urban warfare,” he said.
And the Sentinel, he added, packs a punch “many, many times more” than the Iron Curtain. Sentinel users can also aim its munitions, making instantaneous adjustments based on sensor data, he said.
The design also allows the countermeasures to be fired upwards or downwards — or at other angles — he added, and doesn’t require them to be in the vehicle too close to a sensor.
The arrangement allows the countermeasures to be distributed around the vehicle, Brendley added. “I think the noticeable difference is how you can configure the system,” he said. “You can use different sensors, like us. And No. 2, the countermeasures don’t have to be cantilevered away from the vehicle. They can be right in front of the vehicle and then launch at an angle.”
Is the Army interested?
The Army’s path forward for active protection systems for the combat vehicle fleet is unclear. The agency installed the Trophy APS, made by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, on the M1 Abrams tank located in Europe.
These tanks have been operating on the continent for the past three years, but even this installation has proven challenging. Lt. Gen. Glenn Dean, the Army’s program executive officer for land combat systems, told Defense News in the fall that it’s “a little bit of a challenge to actually operate it, deploy it and maintain it because installing it on tanks is a little difficult . weight.”
The Army has also long argued that Iron Fist, an APS capability from Israeli company Elbit Systems, is suitable for the Bradley vehicle. But technical issues prevented its implementation at first, and the program has not received the funding to go into production.
The Army has evaluated other options for the Stryker, but has not moved forward with any program to equip the vehicle with protection.
The agency is “continually working on our ability to defeat hemispheric threats around the vehicle against a range of threats with a range of technical approaches, so we’re not looking for a one-size-fits-all, do-everything system. But beyond that I’m not going to go into more detail,” Dean told Defense News in the fall, noting that the information is classified.
Brendley said he has a feeling the military is being “very judicious and careful” in how it decides which APS to buy.
Artis has demonstrated Sentinel’s capability in a West Virginia area. In addition to talking to the military, the company is also showing its technology to prime contractors building various platforms that could benefit from active protection, Brendley said.
He added that there is international interest in Sentinel, particularly in the Middle East.
“The APS market is like any other market. If you look at emerging markets, cars or smartphones, what have you, the markets are always there, but they didn’t materialize until the right product came along,” Brendley said, “and we believe we have the right product. I think the market will respond to that.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist who covers land warfare for Defense News. He has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. He holds a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.
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