The Cavalry & Armor Journal, by Aaron Hankins
October 2019 -- The modern battlefield has become a complex theater of threats, from electronic warfare signal jamming, to powerful anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles, and the dawn of small but lethal unmanned aircraft that can quietly locate troops or swarm targets.
After two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and Marine Corps know these threats are not just in the hands of organized armies, but have proliferated and will be a part of any potential future conflict the U.S. military faces. To counter these threats, a major modernization effort to incorporate defensive protection systems on aircraft and ground vehicles is underway.
One of the first significant modernization programs the U.S. Army has undertaken is upgrading a number of brigades of M1A2 main battle tanks with Active Protection Systems (APS) to counter increasingly lethal anti-armor threats on the battlefield.
Active Protection is ground-breaking defensive technology that automatically detects and neutralizes incoming threat projectiles before they reach a target. APS effectively casts a protective field around the vehicle through which RPGs and guided missiles cannot penetrate, while adding little additional weight.
The APS system chosen by the Army for fielding has been 100 percent effective during multiple combat engagements. In dense, urban terrain and an intense electromagnetic environment, the system successfully defeated attacks by short-range RPG rockets and long-range missiles. No tanks equipped with the system suffered hits, casualties or residual effects – nor did any accompanying infantry troops.
New aircraft-based defensive protection systems are being developed to counter exponentially growing heat-seeking anti-aircraft missile threats. A combination of electro-optical and laser-based systems being tested are showing a great deal of promise for improving survivability for air crews when threatened by these missiles.
Advanced laser and EO/IR systems designed to identify and counter these threats, include sensors to protect U.S. Army rotary wing aircraft as part of the new Limited Interim Missile Warning System, providing a foundation for the Army’s future threat detection needs. Advanced laser systems are also gaining attention throughout the services for the ability to counter heat-seeking missile sensors and keep them away from helicopters with its industry leading quantum cascade laser technology.
The quantum cascade laser-based countermeasure works in concert with missile warning sensors to identify and cripple heat-seeking missile threats. The system is then able to confuse the missile and direct it safely away from the aircraft.
The U.S. military plans to grow its helicopter fleet in the coming years, including development of the future vertical lift program. While the platforms will become increasingly sophisticated, older and improved anti-aircraft technology will still be a threat. Laser-based high-tech tools are available now to upgrade the current fleets and can be incorporated into future platforms.
As potential enemies expand their inventories of small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the U.S. military, with help from industry, is moving quickly to develop, test and field new systems to defeat these threats.
In order to do so, the military is developing a counter-UAS capability by integrating radar, electronic warfare and kinetic defeat technologies to defeat Group 1 and 2 UASs at significant ranges.
The U.S. Army is also moving quickly to develop, test and field a new “Initial” Maneuver Short Range Air Defense capability to defeat larger UAS, rotary wing and fixed wing threats.
The U.S military is provided with vehicle-mounted options designed to target both medium and small UAS threats. The Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense equipment package, when integrated on the Stryker A1 platform, will provide maneuver Brigade Combat Teams with a full “detectidentify-track-defeat” capability required to defeat UAS, rotary-wing and fixed-wing threats.
Electronic warfare attacks by U.S. adversaries have been put on global display in recent conflicts, and countries such as Russia have become formidable threats as they continue to modernize their EW capabilities.
Every U.S. soldier and vehicle is a sensor and a multiple emitter, and all of they are networked via terrestrial radio or SATCOM. Every element in a combat theater, from an RF logistics tag on a crate of parts to a command post, is dependent upon the spectrum. This creates a vulnerability that requires sophisticated protection against electronic warfare threats from adversaries. The U.S. military is now focusing on modernizing its EW capabilities both to protect and to attack.
Providing powerful EW systems is essential, as is continuing to design more powerful and fully integrated EW systems to keep ahead of these threats on the battlefield is a must for our soldiers and Marines.
Systems range from lightweight man-portable products that allow for fast signal collection in denied access areas at close range, to larger integrated ground-based, stand-off systems that capture multiple signals for analysis and offer a bigger picture of enemy operations over a longer period of time. All of these tools greatly improve situational awareness on the ground as well as provide valuable actionable intelligence and the ability to attack those signals if desired.
New state-of-the-art ground combat networking technology will increase situational awareness in future conflicts.
The most recent computing hardware in a mounted computing environment (MCE), which operates the next-generation blue force tracking software and many other combat applications, is a more powerful and updated system than its predecessor. The U.S. Army will soon be incorporating these systems in tactical ground combat vehicles in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps fleets and will be available to allied nations around the world.
This MCE endows the next generation of computing and display technology with faster processing speeds, multi-function and applications capabilities. Additionally, it has enhanced processing capabilities to enable Mounted Common Operating Environment capability convergence as the vehicle network integrates multiple sensor inputs, internal and external communications and multiple current and future software applications.
The system is a direct response to U.S. Army requirements for a more networked, mobile, flexible, agile and integrated ground combat computing hardware system, with an enhanced capability for expeditionary missions across the full range of military operations.
The modernization of U.S. military ground forces has called for giving troops the most state-of-the-art EO/IR technologies available, from new capabilities in targeting and weapon sights, to sensors that can see at incredible ranges through the most difficult environmental conditions.
Next-generation EO/IR technology is at the heart of the Army’s ground force modernization efforts. The need for troops to have access to this new state-of-the-art technology mounted on vehicles, helmets or handheld is essential to keep the edge over increasingly advanced adversaries around the world.
The handheld Joint Effects Targeting System is a smaller next-generation EO/IR technology giving forward observers the ability to protect their fellow soldiers with extremely accurate calls for fire.
The Improved Night Observation Device (INOD) thermal weapon sight provides degraded environment and night/ day visibility for missions requiring extended target detection and identification ranges while also enabling observation of environmental indicators and bullet tracking for improved down-range accuracy.