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Armor: Israeli Tech Torments Hamas
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August 3, 2014: The current war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel proved to be a technological disaster for Hamas. This was especially the case with Israeli anti-missile systems. Hamas already knew that the Israeli Iron Dome anti-rocket system and Trophy APS (Active Protection System) anti-missile defense for vehicles worked. Most APS consist of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and disable the incoming threat. A complete system weighs about a ton. There is also a Trophy Light (weighing half a ton) for lighter, often unarmored, vehicles.

It was hoped that when Hamas used a lot of rockets and anti-tank missiles the Israeli systems would display flaws and allow Hamas to do some damage. It has not worked out that way. During the first two weeks of the current war Iron Dome and Trophy kept working reliably. Worse, the Israeli intelligence efforts and air force operations were a lot more effective at finding and destroying rockets before they could be launched than Hamas expected. The only success Hamas has had is the higher (that previous wars) Israeli losses to bobby traps, mines, bombs and ambushes.

Iron Dome and Trophy both entered service in 2010 and Iron Dome got a lot more publicity. But Trophy was more dangerous for Hamas gunmen because it made Israeli tanks virtually invulnerable and able to do a lot of damage to front line Hamas fighters.  This was no secret, Hamas just refused to believe what was happening. By mid-2012 Israel had completed equipping all the Merkava (“Chariot”) tanks in an armor brigade with the Trophy APS (Active Protection System). These tanks came to be known as the Merkava 4 Windbreaker model. In 2010 the first battalion of Merkavas was so equipped. In 2011 Trophy defeated incoming missiles and rockets in combat for the first time. This included ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missile), possibly a modern Russian system like the Kornet E. This is a laser guided missile with a range of 5,000 meters. The launcher has a thermal sight for use at night or in fog. The missile's warhead can penetrate enough modern tank armor to render the side armor of the Israeli Merkava tank vulnerable. The Kornet E missile weighs 8.2 kg (18 pounds) and the launcher 19 kg (42 pounds). The system was introduced in 1994, and has been sold to Syria (who apparently passed them on to Hezbollah and Hamas).

A few weeks before the ATGM intercept Trophy defeated an RPG warhead (an unguided rocket propelled grenade fired from a metal tube balanced on the shoulder). As designed to do, Trophy operated automatically and the crew didn't realize the incoming RPG warhead or missile had been stopped until after it was over. That is how APS is supposed to work.

This first combat use is a big deal because APS has been around for nearly three decades but demand and sales have been slow. The main purpose of APS is to stop ATGMs but on less heavily armored vehicles, stopping RPG type warheads is important as well. The Israeli Trophy APS uses better, more reliable, and more expensive technology than the original Russian Drozd (or its successors, like Arena) APS. For about $300,000 per system, Trophy will protect a vehicle from ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) as well as RPGs (which are much more common in combat zones). Israel is the first Western nation to have a lot of their tanks shot up by modern ATGMs and apparently fears the situation will only get worse.

Israel first encountered ATGMs, on a large scale, in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. But these were the clumsy, first generation missiles that turned out to be more smoke than fire. More recent ATGM designs have proved more reliable and effective but no nation, except Israel, has yet made a major commitment to APS. That may now change because the Israeli APS has knocked down RPGs and ATGMs in large numbers under combat conditions.

Russia pioneered the development of these anti-missile systems. The first one, the Drozd, entered active service in 1983, mainly for defense against American ATGMs. These the Russians feared a great deal, as American troops had a lot of them, and the Russians knew these missiles (like TOW) worked. Russia went on to improve their anti-missile systems but was never able to export many of them. This was largely because these systems were expensive (over $100,000 per vehicle), no one trusted Russian hi-tech that much and new tanks, like the American M-1, were seen as a bigger threat than ATGMs.

 

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