First operational deployment of APS-equipped vehicles in Western Europe

By Paolo Valpolini

Defender-Europe 2020 has been one of the many casualties of the COVID pandemic, as the EDRE (Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise) that was to be played in February-March redeploying to Europe some 20,000 US military, in a 21st century edition of the Cold War-era REFORGER exercises. The COVID crisis heavily impacted the exercise, although over 6,000 Soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment arrived in Europe, and over 9,000 vehicles were moved from Army Prepositioned Stocks to training areas in Germany.

As the training phase had to be cancelled, a Phase 2 is now taking place in a much-reduced form in the July-August timeframe. The three main objectives declared by EUSAREUR (US Army Europe) are a dynamic force employment of a U.S. Army unit to Poland, the movement, drawing and fielding of equipment from Army Prepositioned Stock, and the execution of a company-level combined live-fire exercise.

Defender-Europe 2020 will mark the first operational deployment, albeit only for training, of vehicles fitted with an Active Protection System (APS) in Western Europe. Overall 55 tracked combat vehicles including Bradley IFVs and Abrams MBTs are being moved from Germany to Poland, where the will join up with Polish Army units for a nearly one-month long training period in the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area. The unit involved is the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, which 550 soldiers were redeployed to Europe from Fort Hood, Texas. Its Abrams are fitted with Rafael’s Trophy APS, Defender-Europe being the first exercise in Western Europe that sees the deployment of such systems.

Fitted on Israel Defence Forces Merkava IV MBTs, the Trophy ensures protection against rocket propelled grenades and antitank missiles, and is fully combat proven; the system has been developed in different forms by Rafael, radar sensors being provided by IAI Elta. The US order was awarded in 2018 to Leonardo DRS and Rafael, the first systems being delivered in October 2019. Overall the US Army plans to equip with the Israel APS system its Abrams belonging to four Heavy Brigade Combat Teams, the Trophy having also been ordered by the US Marine Corps for its MBTs.

Such systems have found some resistance in Western countries, the US being the first NATO country to deploy an APS-equipped tank, although numerous other armies are considering the adoption of active systems in order to increase the survivability of their combat vehicles.

Photos courtesy Rafael