The US Army confirmed on 12 December that testing of IMI Systems’ Iron Fist active protection system (APS) on M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles will move forward to the next phase following an assessment of the technology by the service’s Requirements Oversight Council (AROC) in late November. Full execution will also have to await the 2020 budget or at least a congressionally-approved reprogramming: The Army currently has only $80 million of the approximately $200 million required to buy and install Iron Fist on an armored brigade’s 138 Bradleys, plus spares.
Iron Fist is a system developed by IMI Systems (formerly Israel Military Industries) and General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems that has flown under the radar is poised to be chosen as the interim active protection system solution for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The U.S. Army is expected to make initial fielding decisions later this year for the interim APS for the Abrams tank as well as the Stryker and Bradley combat vehicles. The Israeli technology designed to down incoming threats, such as incoming rocket-propelled grenades, will now move into the next phase of urgent qualification testing, while the service plans to urgently field “at least a brigade’s worth of capability.
The only potential challenger is the Trophy APS, also Israeli, which is the only active protection system in the Western world that’s actually been mass-produced and used in combat — qualifying it as TRL 9. The Russians have plenty of APS in service, as Ukrainian anti-tank teams have learned to their sorrow, but they’re not in the running for a US Army contract. The Army is already buying Trophy for four brigades of M1 Abrams heavy tanks — a decision it also made without waiting for the results of Phase 2 “qualification” trials. Both the size of the purchase and speed testify to the Army’s confidence in Trophy’s track record and the importance it places on the Abrams.
The Army also wants to replace the aging M2 Bradley altogether with a cutting-edge Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle that, among other features, is designed with active protection in mind, rather than having APS added on wherever it fits. Those are worthy ambitions, but technically tricky to realize, and they’ll take time — with a non-negligible chance of turning into one of the Army’s periodic acquisition disasters. Meanwhile, the Army is buying what it can get right now.