German AMAP-ADS, Swedish LEDS-150 and American Quick Kill are some of the HK-APS systems in pre-induction phases, while Israeli Iron Fist and Trophy and Russian Arena are fully operational. The only disadvantage of HK-APS is that it is dangerous for the infantry to be within 20-30 metres of the tank during joint infantry-armour operations. A tank can either have SK-APS or HK-APS, not both.
But APS cannot offer protection against the high-speed anti-tank shells fired by other tanks. Because of the speed (1.5 km/s) at which these shells travel, it is impossible for any system to intercept them. The best way to avoid these shells is through better tactics so as to avoid getting shot at. But in spite of the tactics if a tank is shot, the armour is the last line of defence. Notwithstanding the armour’s strength, electronics has penetrated these armours. So, now smart armours are being developed to replace the traditional armours.
The armour explained below, though still in research phase in the UK, is likely to enter the battlefield in the next decade. This explosive reactive armour (ERA) uses layers of highly explosive material sandwiched between armour plates. When a projectile hits the ERA, the hit detonates the explosive layers. The resulting explosion pushes the outer steel plates on to the warhead and disrupts its flow. All this happens in milliseconds. This counter explosion reduces the force of impact greatly and saves the tank crew. This armour is presently used in the form of ERA tiles fitted over the existing tank’s armour. The ERA tiles have to be replaced after a hit.
The ‘smart’ concept has been extended to the ERA. In future, the ERA will be formed as small ERA blocks instead of ERA tiles and their detonation will be controlled by a computer. Pressure sensors will be embedded into the ERA blocks. On a shell’s hitting the armour, the computer through the pressure sensors would sense the location, velocity and diameter of the shell from the impact. Accordingly, the computer would detonate only the relevant explosive elements.
Through this ‘Smart ERA’ concept, minimum force will be used to destroy the shell. Further, the need to change an entire ERA tile would be eliminated. The smaller damaged explosive blocks would be easily replaced at a later time. Since there is only one-in-a-million chance of two shells hitting at the same point, the tank will be safe even without an immediate ERA replacement.
To sum up, electronic tank protection systems have become the tank’s first line of defence, pushing the armour to be the last resort. Army strategists, due to these APS, foresee the reduction of armour weight. Such reduction will make the tanks light, fuel-efficient and agile.
Electronic systems to defend tanks are fine but what about the electronic systems for offensive capabilities? For that the electronic fire control system comes into the play, which will be described in the next part.
To be continued next month
The author has contributed several articles in the past as well