A lot of attention has been paid to the threat IEDs and EFPs pose to Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heavier armor, jamming of cell phone signals, the CROWS weapons mount and “Rhino” countermeasures have all worked to make Humvees more survivable in an IED environment. Also, moving from Humvees to MRAPs for some missions has increased troop survivability.
Still, IEDs aren’t the only threat Humvees and similar vehicles face. One of the most common weapons on the battlefield is the RPG, or Rocket Propelled Grenade. An RPG is a pretty simple weapon. It’s basically a HEAT warhead with a rocket motor to push it along, all fired from a simple tube. Our guys use a similar weapon, the AT-4, which is a disposable, one shot weapon. The RPG is reloadable.
The RPG is a real threat to light vehicles like Humvees, MRAPs, and even Strykers and Bradleys. Its HEAT warhead can penetrate the armor of just about any armored vehicle short of a main battle tank like the M-1. An RPG hit on a Humvee will often result in death or injury to the entire crew and a catastrophic loss of the vehicle.
So how do you defend a vehicle like the Humvee from RPGs? They are too small to carry explosive reactive armor or an anti-RPG cage. You can’t keep adding additional armor. The chassis just won’t take that much weight.
Well, for a couple decades, the armies of the world have been exploring “active defense” against RPGs (and similar HEAT warheads). Using a radar sensor to detect an incoming round, the active defense would instantly and automatically react to fire a projectile to impact with the warhead. Two big problems have always existed with this. One, the sensors and controls just haven’t been practical until the recent improvements in electronics. Secondly, having a vehicle that routinely has troops (and innocent bystanders) nearby suddenly start shooting off explosives is kinda unsafe. Recently, Artis LLC, in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) came up with a system called Iron Curtain that uses a combination of advanced sensors, downward firing countermeasures, and special explosives and projectiles to field a system that can defeat RPG rounds without posing a great risk to dismounted personnel.
The system probably won’t be ready for service for another year or so, but can potentially be a great aid in saving the lives of troops.