- A video from Russia shows a T-72B3 tank defending itself from an anti-tank rocket.
- The tank detects the incoming rocket and launches an interceptor, destroying the rocket.
- The system, known as Arena, allows tanks to avoid the weight trap of ever-increasing armor.
A new video from Russia shows a main battle tank defending itself from an anti-tank rocket. The tank’s active protection system (APS) detects the incoming rocket and launches an interceptor round, knocking it down before it can impact the tank’s hull.
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The system allows Russia to continue using older tanks without over-burdening them with new armor, and avoids the problem of newer tanks becoming progressively heavier. This video is long, so the link below cuts to the action at the 25-minute mark:
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The clip, which comes from the state-controlled media outlet One Russia, shows a Russian Ground Forces soldier firing a RPG-7 anti-tank grenade at a T-72B3 tank. Instead of impacting against the side of the tank’s hull, the RPG is suddenly blasted out of the sky by an object that pops out of the tank’s turret.
The tank’s defense system, Arena-M, is an example of APS, a relatively new technology meant to protect tanks from incoming anti-tank rockets and missiles.
Here’s how it works: A tank or other armored vehicle is ringed with several millimeter-wave radars, each pointed outward and assigned a different arc of sky. If the radars pick up an incoming rocket or missile, they track the target and determine if it’s on a collision course with the vehicle. If it is, the APS automatically launches an interceptor munition that pops out of an armored silo located on the tank and terminates the threat.
APS is designed to neutralize the threat from shaped charge warheads. Regular armor-piercing tank rounds require large gun barrels, high velocities, and dense warheads to brute force their way through tank armor. Shaped-charge (high-explosive) anti-tank warheads, on the other hand, rely on an explosive reaction to forge a high-speed jet of molten metal.
The jet, applied against tank armor, can cut through steel with ease and disable a tank. Unlike armor-piercing rounds, anti-tank shaped charges can be placed on relatively slow-moving missiles, or even hand grenades and anti-tank mines, and remain just as effective. Shaped charges, which are small and lightweight, can be launched from rockets like the American AT-4 rocket or the Russian RPG series.
Shaped charges are a real headache for tank crews. Why? Because the rocket launchers are lightweight and easy to shoot, meaning even cooks and clerks can take out tanks. That makes them ubiquitous on the modern battlefield. They’re also highly effective and getting better all the time, making older tanks more vulnerable to new anti-tank weapons. And as tank designers add more, denser armors to protect the vehicle and crew, today’s tanks are heavier than ever.
During the Cold War, U.S. and NATO forces planned to stop a Soviet tank assault with scads of rockets and missiles armed with shaped charges. The Soviet Union created a number of countermeasures, including the innovative APS. Russia, which inherited the Soviet Union’s tanks and technology, continued to develop the tech.
The Soviets first deployed the T-72 series of tanks, which includes the T-72B3 in the new clip, in the 1970s, making them a half century old. Instead of adding several tons of additional armor to deal with modern anti-tank weapons—which would stress the tank’s engine, suspension, transmission, and even the motor that turns the tank turret—an Arena-M kit weighs just 1.4 tons.
There are some downsides to APS. Experts have described the interceptor munitions as similar to shotgun rounds, sending an explosive blast in the direction of the incoming rocket. That makes the system unpleasant to be around if you’re a friendly Russian infantryman. Other countries solve this problem by conducting the intercept farther from the tank, or using a smaller, more focused blast.
The U.S. Army has equipped an armored brigade’s worth of M1 Abrams tanks with the Israeli-made Trophy APS, and other tanks and armored fighting vehicles worldwide are gradually adopting their own active protection systems. The U.S.’s effort to add APS to the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, which carries more than twice as many personnel as the M1 Abrams, stalled out. Russia’s most modern tank, the vaporware T-14 Armata main battle tank, uses a new system known as Afghanit.
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