Armor: Turks Adapt Ukrainian APS Tech

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August 8, 2020: In mid-2020 Turkey introduced another M-60T upgrade called M-60TM. The main new feature of TM is the addition of the PULAT APS (Active Protection System).

The Turks have been using the M-60Ts since 2010 and have been quite satisfied with them. This T version of the M-60 is based on the Israeli M-60 Sabra, which was a much-enhanced M-60 that the Turks implemented as the M-60T. In March 2002 Turkey signed a $668 million deal to have an Israeli firm upgrade 170 American made M-60A1 tanks to the M-60T standard. This involved replacing the existing 105mm gun with a 120mm one. The fire-control system was upgraded as was the frontal armor with the addition of both active ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) and passive (composite) armor. Electronics in general were upgraded, external sensors were added and engines were overhauled. The M-60T deal followed four years of talks, during which Israel originally offered to sell them Merkava tanks but Turkey decided to upgrade its existing M-60s instead. Israel had already upgraded many of their M-60s to the Sabra standard and the Turks were impressed with the results.

The new Turkish Pulat APS is the result of an early 2018 deal that enabled a Turkish firm to manufacture a Turkish version of the Ukrainian Zaslon-L APS. The Ukrainian APS was somewhat unique in that it was designed to protect structures as well as vehicles from guided missiles. Zaslon-L consists of three different modules. There is a radar module, a guidance system module and multiple CMMs (countermeasures modules). The CMMs are basically a special type of ERA (explosive reactive armor) designed for one-time use and able quickly (a fraction of a second) throw out a cloud of fragments that will destroy any incoming missiles. The downside of Zaslon is that cloud of high-speed fragments can kill or injure nearby troops or civilians. Moreover, each CMM, while reloadable, is only good for two shots. Nevertheless, Zaslon has proved it works and that is what counts. That plus the speed with which the Ukrainians agreed to and implemented deals like this.

The Turkish deal was hastily arranged in response to numerous (over a dozen) Turkish tank losses from ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and RPGs during operations in northwest Syria 2016-2018. Turkey arranged for a Turkish firm to obtain a manufacturing license to build the Zaslon-L APS for at least a hundred (and many more if successful) of its Leopard 2 and M60 tanks.

Zaslon is more modular that most APS systems, which tend to consist of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and disable the incoming threat. Zaslon is different and can be quickly adapted, because of its modular design, to be installed on different tanks and armored vehicles. Thus, a Zaslon APS weighs between 500 and 1,000 kg (depending on the type of vehicle it is installed on). Zaslon has been available since 2010 and has worked in combat with Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. It was that combat experience that convinced the Turks to go with Zaslon. That and the fact that Ukraine, since its independence was restored in 1991, has depended on developing and selling (to just about anyone) modern and usually quite effective military technology.

The Turkish firm that is to manufacture Zazlon had been working on its own APS but had not gotten it to work yet. The Turks were unable to obtain APS from the other two major manufacturers (Israel and Russia) because there are diplomatic problems with those two. Another potential problem is that such technology transfers to Turkish manufacturers sometimes run into problems. Recent victims of this have been Israel, which has ceased doing business with the Turks, and South Korea, which considers the problems an expensive form of education. These is still a lot of corruption in Turkey and for military manufacturers this often means promising more than you can deliver. This is not unique, India has similar problems and so do, to a certain extent, all defense manufacturers.

The Turks knew they needed an APS in early 2016 when one of their M-60T tanks was hit by a Russian made Kornet ATGM, and badly damaged but not destroyed. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) took credit for this attack. The Turks described the damage to the M069T as slight and repairable

The Kornet E is a Russian 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 or U.S. M1 tanks vulnerable. The 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. ISIL captured some Kornets in Syria.

Kornet has had some success against less well protected models of the M1 tank. In 2014, when Iraqi forces fell apart, several American made M1 tanks were lost, some to Kornet missiles. The Iraqi troops using the M1s did not, as they were taught, use their M1s in conjunction with infantry. This allowed ISIL fighters to get close enough to M1s during combat to place explosives and disable or destroy some of these M1s. A few were destroyed by Kornet missiles.

In 2003 four M1s were disabled, but not destroyed, by Iraqi Kornets. In 2006 several Israeli Merkavas were destroyed by Hezbollah Kornet. By 2014 Israel had adopted anti-ATGM systems for their Merkavas which defeated over a dozen Kornet attacks.

Before 2014 no M1s had been destroyed by enemy action, but that was in large part because they were used by well-trained crews and commanders. Moreover, nearly all the American M1s that had been in combat had better armor than the ones sold to Iraq. There are several items that American M1s have the Iraqi M1 tanks did not get. The Iraqi M1A1s had no depleted uranium armor, no ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), and no additional protection against anti-tank missiles. Worst of all, the Iraqi M1s did not have disciplined, experienced and determined crews.

Turkey has well trained crews for their Leopards and M-60s, meaning an APS made these tanks more effective. That was already the case with the new features of the M-60T/TM. Adapting a combat proven APS as their Pulat was a wise move. Developing an effective APS has proved to be very difficult and the Ukrainians were one of the few nations to do it, thanks in part to Ukraine fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

 


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