On March 1, 2011 an Israeli Merkava IV tank on patrol along the Gaza periphery was fired upon by Hamas terrorists from concealed positions within Gaza. Using a deadly RPG-29, a more advanced version of the RPG-7, the terrorists waited for impact. But their moment of glory never transpired. As the anti-tank projectile neared its target, a revolutionary platform – the Trophy Armor Protection System (APS) – deployed on the Merkava IV detected the threat and instantly fired a number of pellets at the deadly menace, destroying and rendering it inert yards from the tank.
Barely three weeks later, Hamas terrorists experienced further failure. They once again attempted to engage a Trophy-equipped Merkava IV. This time, the Trophy calculated the missile’s trajectory and determined that the missile posed no threat, allowing it pass along harmlessly. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Based on the missiles flight path, the Trohy was able to determine the source of fire and transmitted the coordinates to the tank’s crew as well as to nearby units who instantly directed their accurate counter-fire toward the source of the attack, causing at least one terrorist casualty.
The Israeli made Trophy APS had instantly revolutionized armored warfare. It was the first time that such a system had been successfully deployed in battle and the results elated the army’s top brass as well as Trophy’s designers, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries' Elta Group. No longer would an armored vehicle have to rely on its own armor to defend against anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and other forms of anti-tank threats. Tanks and other vehicles, such as armored personnel carriers and even HUMVEEs would henceforth go into battle with an active protection system designed to swat anti-tank missiles, shells and rockets as though they were pesky mosquitos.
Trophy works like a mini Iron Dome, another Israeli wonder weapon that intercepts and neutralizes short-range rocket threats, like Russian GRAD rockets, from the skies. It utilizes a combination of sensors and radar along with fire control technology and intercepting pellets to detect and neutralize incoming missile threats. A secondary feature enables the Trophy to accurately determine the source of fire and transmit the coordinates to nearby ground and air units through the Tzayad battlefield management system. All friendly units in the theater are instantly apprised of the enemy’s position making escape and evasion difficult.
Trophy proved its mettle once more during Operation Protective Edge, a seven-week counter insurgency campaign undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces against the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza during the summer of 2014. During the operation, Trophy succeeded beyond all expectations, intercepting a variety of anti-tank threats. In fact, according to IDF sources, the Trophy system intercepted no less than 15 anti-tank missiles and rockets including the deadly Russian Kornet missile which is believed to be capable of penetrating 3.9 feet of armor and has a range of about 5,500 yards.
These missiles were used by the Iraqi army against American M1 Abrams tanks during Operation Iraqi Freedom and by Hezbollah against Israeli Merkava tanks during the Second Lebanon War. The Trophy system is an outgrowth of the Israeli experience during the Second Lebanon War and became operational some four years later. By 2010, an entire battalion of Merkava IV tanks had been outfitted with the Trophy. The Trophy has also been adopted for use in Israeli Namer & Eitan armored personnel carriers and there are plans in the works for deployment on naval craft.
Despite its revolutionary design features and battle-tested capabilities, the United States Army was initially hesitant in adopting the Trophy APS, preferring instead to see how a locally produced variant performed. But a confluence of emerging threats coupled with a new, no-nonsense attitude adopted by Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, has finally convinced the U.S. Army to adopt the Trophy APS for its M1A2 tanks, at least in limited numbers.
A Trophy-equipped brigade of over 80 Abrams tanks is slated to be deployed to the European theater by 2020 to counter recent Russian aggressive actions, which include the seizure and occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine as well as menacing, large-scale military exercises including one ominously code-named, “Zapad 17.” Zapad is Russian for “West.”
Some U.S. Army Abrams tanks are fitted with reactive armor tile, which is designed to deflect the penetrating blast away from tanks. That system has proved to be effective against some rocket and missile threats but later generation missiles, such as the Kornet, are equipped with tandem or dual warheads. The first charge destroys the tanks protective reactive armor allowing the second and more lethal charge to hit the tank.
According to Col. Glenn Dean, the Project Manager of the Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Combat Ground Systems, of live-fire testing at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, the Israeli Trophy APS “exceeded [his] expectations.” He noted that during testing, he “tried to kill the Abrams tank 48 times and failed.” New procedures adopted by the Department of Defense allowed for a streamlined acquisitions process, bypassing the usual bureaucratic red tape resulting in quicker deployment of the Trophy.
The U.S. and Israeli militaries have always maintained close ties despite malevolent efforts by the Obama administration to sour relations. The two militaries share common symmetrical and asymmetrical threats and represent beacons of strength and stability in a world threatened by apocalyptic mullahs and petty dictators with imperialistic designs. The acquisition of the Trophy by the U.S. military further underscores the closeness of the relationship and advances the shared interests of two great democracies with winning traditions.