According to budget documents submitted to Congress in February, an experimental vehicle-mounted active protection system that can defeat an incoming RPG before it hits the vehicle may be getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan.
As part of a packet of fiscal year ’12 budget documents DARPA provided to Congress, the agency reports that its vehicle-mounted Iron Curtain and Crosshairs programs are being melded into one system, and are being readied for “transition to combat forces in the 2010/2011 time frame.”
Crosshairs, developed by Mustang Technology Group, uses the Boomerang acoustic gunshot-detection sensor to cue the vehicle's remote-operated gun so the system can detect, locate and engage shooters.
DARPA announced last October that Crosshairs was deploying to Afghanistan, and in its fiscal year ’12 request to Congress it zeroed out funding for the program, as opposed to the previous year’s request for $3.9 million. But the ’12 doc also tells us that “the Crosshairs sensor system is being integrated with the Iron Curtain Active Protection System (IC-APS) on four up-armored vehicles,” after which “the Crosshairs systems will be ready for field testing.”
This is news. Marrying the Crosshairs system with the previously experimental—and undeployed—Iron Curtain active protection system would be a huge step in active protection capability for U.S. forces, allowing moving vehicles to detect, locate, and defeat both enemy snipers and incoming RPG rounds.
Iron Curtain—a system which is mounted to the top of a vehicle that uses radar to detect an incoming round, identify it, and deploy a countermeasure from a downward-facing array—has been in testing for several years, but this is the first hint we’ve seen that it might actually be used in an operational setting.
Giving extra weight to DARPA’s statement that it wants to deploy the integrated system this year is the involvement of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and the MRAP Project Manager’s office in testing “to validate the capabilities and initiate transition to combat forces,” according to the request. In fiscal year ’10, according to the documents, DARPA “completed integration of the IC-APS and CrossCue system,” and “validated system performance and field-worthiness through testing by the Army Test and Evaluation Command.”
Contacted by Aviation Week, DAPRA refused to comment on the Crosshairs/Iron Curtain program, as has the Rapid Equipping Force. The Department of Defense handed questions off to DARPA.
A spokesperson form the Marine Corps Systems Command—which runs the MRAP office—while refusing to comment specifically, emails that “we are assessing the maturity of the technology to determine the potential to meet an urgent requirement from theater. As in any capability assessment it would include performance in an array of operational conditions that are representative of theater environments. While some of those relevant conditions have proven successful the system must fully demonstrate the required performance across the operational conditions.”
We’ll have to wait and see if RPGs start mysteriously exploding in midair for confirmation that this system has finally made it to theater.