WASHINGTON: Subcontractor Rada just released the first photo we’ve seen of the Israeli Iron Fist anti-missile system installed on an American M2 Bradley. With Russian and Chinese-made anti-tank missiles proliferating in Syria and other war zones, the US Army — and now the Marines — are rushing to field so-called Active Protection Systems on all its armored fighting vehicles.
Four brigades of M1 Abrams heavy tanks are already funded to get a rival Israeli APS called Trophy. UPDATE On Tuesday morning, Leonardo-DRS — the US partner of Trophy manufacturer Rafael — announced an additional $67 million contract to equip even more M1s with their APS. This includes not only Army tanks beyond the four previously announced brigades but, for the first time, Marine Corps vehicles as well. The contract is “undefinitized,” so we don’t know how many vehicles will be involved, but Leonardo did say their total contracts to put Trophy on US M1 Abrams now exceed $200 million. UPDATE ENDS
But work has lagged on the smaller M2 Bradley troop carrier — which, with less armor and more troops aboard than the M1 tank, arguably needs APS more. Last month, more than a year after the initial contract to put Trophy on the Abrams, the Army committed to buying an initial brigade’s-worth of Iron Fist-Light for the Bradley.
Why the delay? Just take a closer look at that picture — and then compare it to a Bradley without an APS:
The Bradley’s turret is pretty cluttered already, what with a 25 mm cannon (barrel not installed on the Rada photo), machine guns, radio antennas, targeting sensors, and two TOW missile launchers. Add in an active protection system, which requires four radars to detect incoming missiles from all directions and countermeasures launchers to shoot them down, and it becomes downright crowded. By contrast, while the M1 Abrams has a bunch of clutter on its turret too, its turret is so much larger that the different systems aren’t so crammed together, making it easier to install, access, and maintain the APS.
What you can’t see in these photos is that the Bradley’s electrical power system is even more overloaded than the turret. With a host of upgrades since its introduction in the analog days of the early ’80s – new sensors, computerized displays, and above all jamming equipment to stop radio-controlled roadside bombs – Bradleys often have to ration electricity, a kind of rolling blackout in which crews turn off some gadgets so they can turn on others.
Between these technical difficulties and some funding delays, it’s no wonder that active protection work on the Bradley is lagging months behind the Abrams. That said, it’s doing a lot better than the Stryker, an even lighter armored vehicle, where the Army ended up rejecting the APS they were testing and starting over. (That was Artis LLC’s Iron Curtain, the only US-invented APS in the mix).
Perhaps it’s all these headaches and hurdles that have led IMI, which makes Iron Fist among many other systems, to be strikingly silent about the US Army effort. That’s a stark contrast to their competitors, who’ve been eager to talk to us. (See our coverage of the Rafael/Leonardo Trophy, Artis Iron Curtain, and Rheinmetall ADS). Today’s photo comes not from IMI, in fact, but from their radar subcontractor, an Israeli firm called Rada.
Rada didn’t provide much detail about the specific vehicle in the photo, but a close look at the background shows it’s in the United States. (Note the dumpster behind the Bradley is marked in English and Spanish, not Hebrew). That seems to indicate this isn’t the non-standard Bradley the Israeli contractors use for their own testing, but a US Army vehicle, probably part of the Army’s official “characterization” tests. If so, it’s a very tangible sign of how far this effort has come.
Updated at 9:45 pm to clarify the number of radars on Iron Fist – Light (four).