By its very nature, offensive technology tends to develop faster than the defensive response. Once a weapon makes its way onto the battlefield and is proven viable, those in its crosshairs immediately set about finding ways to counter this new advantage. Sometimes a new weapon system can be successfully countered with technological advancements of your own, other times compensating for the new threat may mean a shift in strategy but sometimes, a weapon proves so cost effective and capable, the best you can do for a time is incorporate a series of half-measures intended to mitigate the damage your opponent can deliver via their new platform.
Such has been the case with some explosive ordnance found on today’s battlefield. Thus far, America’s technological leaps have not been able to completely neuter the devastating effects of powerful improvised explosive devices, rockets or missiles on smaller military vehicles. However, the Army is testing a new system that could mean a significant leap in managing at least two of those explosive threats, offering a never before seen level of protection for equipment ranging in size from Humvees to tanks and they’re calling it the Iron Curtain.
In short, the Iron Curtain is an active protection system that marries the capabilities of a powerful computer to a frame mounted high on a vehicle’s side. When the system senses an approaching missile or rocket, it calculates its time on target and launches a downward shower of tiny projectiles at just the right instant to destroy the incoming threat before it contacts the exterior shell of the vehicle. The system is so precise, in fact, that the Army reports that 80% of tests see the incoming ordnance cut in half without even detonating at all.
That precision is really what sets the Iron Curtain platform apart from its competitors being developed in Israel and Germany. “Trophy” and “Iron Fist” are both Israel-based programs that aim to do a similar job to the Iron Curtain, but they’ve been developed with heavy armored vehicles in mind. Trophy, for instance, is being tested on the M1 Abrams, and Iron Fist is being fitted to M2 Bradley troop carriers — but neither system would actually work on the thin-skinned non-armored Humvees many American troops find themselves in on the battlefield.
The Israeli systems use interceptors that rely on the vehicle’s armor to absorb a fair amount of shrapnel in even the best-case scenarios. The Iron Curtain, however, lacks the firepower of these larger interceptor endeavors and is mounted on vehicles without the armor to absorb incoming shrapnel — but what it lacks in brute force, it makes up for with computing power. In about a blink of an eye, the Iron Curtain can do 50,000 calculations, determining exactly when the time is right to strike to render an incoming missile or rocket-propelled grenade useless.
The Iron Curtain design actually benefits from the technology used in most modern explosives found on the battlefield. In order to make a rocket-propelled grenade or rocket useful in a fight, it needs to not only be powerful, but its safety mechanisms need to be robust. A rocket isn’t much good in a fight if it’s liable to go off on your back, so these weapon systems are designed specifically to detonate only when the fuse is triggered. Anti-tank weapons also utilize a very specific firing sequence that shapes the flow of the explosive and projectile in a specific way to penetrate heavy armor. The Iron Curtain interrupts these processes, often leaving the projectile destroyed but undetonated after engaging.
The Army is actively testing the Iron Curtain system, and although its manufacturer Artis claims successful tests on Humvees and images have surfaced of it mounted on Stryker vehicles, there isn’t much information available about the platform via official channels. There’s no telling when, or if, we’ll see it make its way into common use – but if it’s proving as capable as the figures suggest, it’s likely that the Iron Curtain may be among the rapid acquisitions the Defense Department pushes through as a part of their modernization efforts.
See the Iron Curtain in action in the video below:
Images courtesy of Artis