WASHINGTON — Defense contractor Artis is unveiling an active protection system it says addresses a gap the U.S. Army and other forces are looking to fill: the defense of attacks from above.
The service years ago evaluated the company’s Iron Curtain active protection system for combat vehicles but never adopted the technology. Now, Artis is presenting its Sentinel third-generation APS that the firm said is able to defeat so-called top-attack threats.
Artis said has it demonstrated the Sentinel can protect vehicles and infrastructure from nearly all direct-fire threats, including tank-fired rounds, anti-tank guided missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and loitering munitions — otherwise known as exploding drones, which target vehicles and infantry alike, often with deadly effect.
The Army launched an effort in 2016 to rapidly field interim solutions to protect Abrams tanks, Stryker combat vehicles and the Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The service pursued options through a demonstration phase.
The Army had selected Iron Curtain as an interim protection system in 2017 for the Stryker but decided against fielding 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 take too much time and money to mature the system.
The Virginia-based business has spent 20 years refining and expanding a capability versatile enough to handle nearly all threats to combat vehicles, including top-attack threats, long before the war in Ukraine and the use of loitering munitions highlighted the need for such robust protection.
What can the Sentinel do?
The Army did not require any active protection system under consideration as an interim solution address threats from above; the service was solely focused on protecting the sides of tanks and vehicles. But leadership has turned to addressing top-attack threats upon seeing their proliferation in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Artis’ developed its first design for top-attack protection through a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency around 2008, the company’s president, Keith Brendley, told Defense News. The company has since continued work on the design through investors. But Sentinel’s capability gained significant traction through a contract with the Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office, awarded shortly after the service rejected Iron Curtain for the Stryker, he explained.
Artis concluded its work with the office in June 2023.
“The focus wasn’t on top-attack; it was on sabot rounds and chain gun threats,” Brendley said of the company’s work with the Army office. “So not only can Sentinel defeat top-attack threats, but we can also defeat tank-fired rounds, sabot rounds, things of that nature.”
Sabot rounds are metal rods that can pierce armor and explode, spraying metal shards.
Developing technology to defeat threats like chain gun rounds is challenging and requires a set of sensors, radars and highly lethal projectiles, according to Brendley.
“Sentinel is an affordable APS solution that provides substantial multi-shot protection, excellent minimum-range performance, and very low collateral damage, which make[s] it ideal for both wide-open terrain and close-in urban warfare,” he said.
And the Sentinel, he added, packs a punch “many, many times more” than the Iron Curtain. Users of the Sentinel can also steer its munitions, making instantaneous adjustments based on sensor data, he said.
The design also allows the countermeasures to shoot up or down — or at other angles — he added, and are not required to be situated on the vehicle in very close proximity to a sensor.
The arrangement allows for the countermeasures to be distributed around the vehicle, Brendley added. “I think the remarkable difference is in how you can configure the system,” he said. “You can use different sensors, which we are. And No. 2, the countermeasures don’t have to cantilever far from the vehicle. They can be right up against the vehicle, then fire out at an angle.”
Is the Army interested?
The Army’s way ahead for active protection systems for its fleet of combat vehicles is unclear. The service installed the Trophy APS, made by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, on M1 Abrams tank fielded in Europe.
Those tanks have operated on the continent over the last three years, but even that setup has proved challenging. Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, the Army’s program executive officer for ground combat systems, told Defense News in the fall that it’s “a little bit of a challenge to operate and really deploy and sustain it because installation on tanks is a little bit of a burden.”
The Army has also long held that Iron Fist, an APS capability from Israeli firm Elbit Systems, is right for the Bradley vehicle. But technical issues first prevented its fielding, and the program has not received the funding to move into production.
The Army has evaluated other options for Stryker but hasn’t moved forward on any program to outfit the vehicle with protection.
The service is “working continuously on our ability to defeat hemispheric threats all around the vehicle against a range of threats with a range of technical approaches, so not looking for one system that is one-size-fits-all and does everything. But beyond that I’m not going to go into any more detail,” Dean told Defense News in the fall, noting the information is classified.
Brendley said he gets the feeling the Army is “very prudent and cautious” in how it decides which APS to buy.
Artis has been demonstrating the Sentinel’s capability at a West Virginia range. In addition to talking with the Army, the company is also showing its technology to prime contractors building various platforms that could benefit from active protection, Brendley said.
He added there is international interest for the Sentinel, particularly in the Middle East.
“The APS market is like any other market. If you take a look at emerging markets, automobiles 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 think we have the right product. I think the market is going to respond to that.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.