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Tech Breakdown: Active Protection Systems
This week’s topic is much less familiar to our readers who live in aviation circles, but it’s time to start paying attention. Let’s break down Active Protection Systems (APS).

The What
APS is just what the name means, so instead of a definition, we’ll use a tank to explain. 

To protect a tank from attack, the historical answer has been to add or improve armor, which protects the tank after it is hit (duh). This is passive protection and it adds size and weight, which reduces maneuverability and range. Case in point: The Army’s latest M1A2C tank is 13 tons heavier than the original M1A1 version from the Cold War.

Active protection involves a mechanism to engage and negate the incoming projectile before it touches the tank. These are divided into soft-kill and hard-kill systems. Soft-kill techniques are electronic countermeasures that work the same way they do on aircraft.

Hard-kill APS is very different: It physically attacks the incoming threat to alter its warhead or trajectory in a way that negates the intended effect. In laymen’s terms, APS shoots the incoming projectile right before it impacts the tank.

The Soviet Union developed APS in the 1970s and its current system (called Arena) is widely-deployed on Russia’s tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. Germany’s Rheinmetall Active Defense System (ADS) and the Israeli Rafael Trophy Vehicle Protection System (VPS) are two widely-deployed western world APS, though if you play Call of Duty you already knew that.
So What
Do you know who hasn’t been able to develop an APS? The United States. DARPA tried in 2005 with the Iron Curtain , and after 13 years of development , the Army finally killed the program.

Now, the U.S. Army is hosting a shoot-off competition to decide which mature light-weight system to buy: Rafael’s Trophy VPS or Rheinmetall’s ADS. It’s not apples to apples though.

The German solution uses a large amount of small computer-controlled explosives around the vehicle that are designed to detonate right before the incoming threat hits the vehicle. Israel’s Trophy shoots a single tiny missile to intercept the incoming threat further away from the vehicle.

OBTW: These mature ground vehicle protection systems autonomously complete the entire kill-chain (detect, engage, and defeat) in well under 200 milliseconds. That is wicked fast! In fact, you can only tell what’s going on when replaying the video in slow motion.

What Now
The Air Force (and aero-defense sector) needs to pay attention. The Army is assessing these systems on lighter vehicles (i.e., not tanks), which means size and weight are key characteristics — the same things that matter for aircraft.

If APS could someday be adapted for aircraft use, it could be an absolute game-changer for the way the Air Force defines a permissible environment, missile defensive timelines, and entire the risk calculus associated with both of them. Imagine a legacy RPA (like the RQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper) outfitted with an APS and how that might change things.

And if you can adapt an APS to an RPA, then imagine what might come next: APS-outfitted RPA sweepers fly ahead of more valuable platforms to intercept incoming missiles, long before they are even a factor to the strike package. #missilesponge
In That Number
3 Years

The time one of the Air Force’s E8 JSTARS has been stuck in Air Force-owned depot maintenance.

OBTW, there are only
16 of these Boeing 707-based in operation (15 if you stopped counting the 3-year-old hangar queen).

For perspective on how long that is: Over the entire production history of the 707, Boeing produced an average of 89 planes in the time this one aircraft has been down for maintenance.  
Trivia: Rank the Combatant Command Twitter accounts by the number of followers, from most to least.

On the Radar
The Navy kicked off its inaugural manned and unmanned capabilities exercise. Known by the completely unimaginative “Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21”, the exercise will feature the integration of unmanned and manned capabilities above, on, and under the sea. One of the exercise objectives is to use “a combination of manned and unmanned assets in order to get after a target and provide a targeting solution at range, [then] put a missile on the target.” Given the platform participant playlist, this is not the last you’ll hear about this.

Amidst pending organizational shuffles, the effort to provide tactical satellite data to the warfighter continues. Backstory: the Space Force was considering taking on the mission of providing high-fidelity, low-latency imagery to warfighters to enable them to make shoot/move/communicate decisions. The Army launched Gunsmoke-J as a demo to do just that. Then the Army doubled-down with Mounted Assured PNT System ( MAPS), the Army alternative to the Air Force’s GPS III constellation and M-code solution for position, navigation, and timing (PNT). This week the Space Force announced it finalized a list with the Army on which systems will transfer, though there is no mention of the Army’s high visibility ‘tactical space layer’ project. On the heels of this Space Force announcement, the Army announced it had approved plans for this initiative to move forward—with no mention of the Space Force. Stay tuned this year for more news as the Pentagon moves to consolidate all military space missions into the Space Force.
Word of the Week
Minimum Essential Subsystem List (MESL): An aircraft-specific term referring to the components of a platform that are required to work in order for that platform to do a specific function or mission. Often used in slang for must-haves…like phone, wallet, keys.

Why it Matters:
The MESL lays the groundwork for aircraft reporting status, which is way more complicated than the typical public mission-capable rate discussion. Because the MESL combines a platform’s full systems list and basic systems list, the MESL is not only used to determine if an aircraft is usable, it’s also used to categorize the extent of usability as either Full Mission Capable (FMC) or Partial Mission Capable (PMC) (i.e., a subsystem is broke but it’s not a show-stopper).
They Said It
“Beijing actively seeks space superiority through space and space attack systems. One notable object is the Shijian-17, a Chinese satellite with a robotic arm. Space-based robotic arm technology could be used in a future system for grappling other satellites.”

— General James Dickinson , Commander, United States Space Command, during a Congressional budget hearing. China launched the satellite in 2016, and this information was recently declassified for public awareness. 
A Closer Look
Admit it, you paid no attention to the maritime shipping industry until last month when the Ever Given, fullly loaded with 18,000 containers, blocked the Suez Canal for six days, halted $10 billion in trade, and fueled a meme-fest

The story is far from over though. Did you know that the ship is still stuck in the Suez Canal, but for a different reason? The Japanese-flagged ship and its Indian crew are being held hostage by Egypt over a legal claim.
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Trivia Answer: CENTCOM (420k), INDOPACOM (280k), SOUTHCOM (232k, the dark horse!), EUCOM (189k), NORTHCOM (123k), AFRICOM (112k)
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