IAV 2018: Active Protection Systems – Are They Safe?
Intuition can sometimes be counterproductive. Experience in recent years with active protection systems (APS) – various solutions to the seemingly intractable issue of how to ‘hard kill’ incoming missiles or RPGs targeting your vehicle – has resulted in a mindset that in many cases categorises the solution as an autonomous weapon system – and therefore one that is inherently unsafe. Unsafe because, given long range detection, time of flight and processing and reaction times, among other factors, a traditional APS may well attack the incoming target at some distance from the vehicle, in any direction, causing potential collateral damage to friendly forces or infrastructure that happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
ADS Gesellschaft für aktive Schutzsysteme mbH, a pioneer of reliable and precise hard-kill APS may be just about to turn that mindset on its head and steal a significant march in the competition to field APS on a widespread basis. At IAV 2018 in Twickenham on 23 January it announced that its APS has achieved an independently assessed ‘functionally safe’ rating – a world first for an APS and an accreditation that will undoubtedly change perceptions and improve credibility in the procuring community.
After seven years of risk-assessed design, development and system testing, partially funded by the Bundeswehr, ADS-GEN3 will be certified later this year to IEC61508 SIL 3 (Safety Integrity Level), to be independently assessed by auditing firm tms (technisch-mathematische studiengesellschaft mbH) using the Bundeswehr’s assessment methodology for weaponry safety. This will validate defensive operation as succeeding in at least 999 of 1000 system responses, and potentially as high as 9,999 in 10,000 system actions.
Fundamentally, the system works in a different way from other APS, using what the company terms a distributed APS architecture, which aims to defeat the incoming round just 4 milliseconds from impact, according to Dr. Ronald Meixner, the company’s Pre-Sales Engineer. This means the area affected by the disrupting explosive event is very limited – within metres of the target vehicle – leaving infantry, for example, a dozen or more metres away unaffected: something that would not necessarily be the case for a more traditional launcher-based APS architecture.
“Infantry don’t normally hug tanks,” Meixner’s marketing colleague Geoff Revill points out, adding this means the distributed architecture solution takes actual battlefield behaviour into account, rather than forcing an alteration in behaviour to fit the capabilities of a system. Further, the system is designed to run continuously safely, thus assuring that dismounted crew or support infantry are not put at unnecessary risk by the APS automated defensive firing capabilities. The reliability of functional safety in ADS-Gen3 aims at a level higher than daily used elevators, critical components in public transport or traffic light controls.
ADS is a Rheinmetall company and thus benefits from the fact that over 50% of the Düsseldorf giant’s revenues derive from the automotive sector – a sector in which the application of similar explosives technology (in driver and passenger airbags particularly) has become routine. This means that ADS can benefit from a pre-existing supply chain that is already accustomed to the required levels of safety.
ADS already has a customer in Southeast Asia, who has deployed the current iteration of the system for some two years, Meixner told MONS at Twickenham. The United States is currently conducting the second phase of an emergency procurement exercise in which the only critical question, according to Meixner, has been “is it safe to deploy?”
The test programme will pass the 1,000 firings mark later this year and the internationally accepted safety accreditation will be an enormous help as ADS takes the programme further forward. What’s next? An intriguing answer was given to the question posed as to whether the system could cope with fast-moving APFSDS projectiles as opposed to (relatively) slow-moving ATGMs and RPGs. And that will be the subject of further reporting later this year – with any luck at all. Watch this space.