US tanks have fallen far behind Russia in a key area

In 2006, Israel sent its top tier Merkava tanks to fight against largely unarmored Hezbollah divisions, but they still faced considerable losses owing to the proliferation of advanced antitank rounds, many of which originated in Russia.

Fast forward to the 2014 Gaza conflict with Hamas. Despite Hamas having similar weapons and backing, not a single Merkava or Israeli armored fighting vehicle was lost. The reason being that Israel had perfected the Trophy Active Protection System (APS) to defend its tanks.

The US, on the other hand, has not faced a peer or near-peer adversary in ground combat in decades, and, as a reflection of that, the US’s main combat tank, the M1 Abrams, lacks an APS.

Today, limited US forces advise and assist forces in Syria, where no fewer than eight antitank missile systems are in play, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.

The most worrisome of these systems originate in Russia and use clever means to defeat tank-armor systems. This highlights the need for the US to modernize its armored-fighting-vehicle defenses.

But finding an APS for the US Army and Marine Corps’ global ground force is fraught with difficulties. Even if the US were to buy and deploy Israel’s tested Trophy system, there are many additional considerations to be made.

The Marines, for instance, need an APS that can be deployed on boats and resist salt-water corrosion. The systems, with their advanced sensors needed to detect and destroy incoming threats in the blinding speed of real-time conflict, may interfere with each other or malfunction.
active protection system tank army
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active protection system tank army

(How an APS works.Congressional Research Service)

Because the systems need to operate in milliseconds, no human can deploy them. Therefore they need to be automated, and collateral damage is a real risk. APS uses a hail of shrapnel to thwart incoming rockets, filling the area outside the tank with explosions and flying debris that could potentially harm friendly troops.

Because of the US’s high standards of protecting lives and property, public and private, they must come up with a satisfactory solution to these issues.

Meanwhile Russia claims to have developed the T-14 Armata, a truly next-generation tank fitted with a bigger gun, better armor, and APS all around.
Russian servicemen drive T-14
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Russian servicemen drive T-14

(Russian servicemen drive T-14 Armata tanks during a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Red Square in central Moscow.Thomson Reuters)

While there is reason to doubt the overall capabilities of the T-14, antitank weapons systems are proven to be effective and in the hands of militias around the world.

For the US to retain its asymmetrical advantage in ground warfare, as it has done for decades, the issue of protecting armored vehicles must be addressed.