As vehicles reach their upper weight limits and digitisation and power generation of platforms increases, there is a growing preference for advanced self-protection technologies that sense, and possibly intercept, a threat before it strikes. MT investigates.
The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were a significant period for armoured vehicle design, as many NATO land forces involved in these campaigns realised their existing inventories were not adequately protected against the threats they faced. This was particularly the case for protection against asymmetric weapons, such as improvised EFPs as well underbody blasts from buried anti-vehicles mines and IEDs. The years since has seen several forces look to upgrade the protection capabilities of their existing AFV fleets, or procure brand new vehicles that provide even greater crew protection and mobility improvements. These new vehicles are now employing integrated and multi-layered protection systems, including passive and active sensors, effectors and armour.
Turkey’s experience during its interventions in Syria has accelerated its roll out of additional protection capabilities for its armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) fleet. This was influenced by the Turkish Army’s experience during Operation 'Euphrates Shield' in 2016, when the army lost several vehicles to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) in northern Syria, including LEOPARD 2A4s and at least one legacy M60.
The Turkish Army’s newer M60T FIRAT MBT, upgraded by IMI Systems (an Elbit Systems company) in the early 2000s, have now received a series of additional protection upgrades that were first publicly seen during Turkey’s second Syria intervention, known as Operation 'Olive Branch,' in early 2018. As part of an upgrade contract placed in 2017, Aselsan has integrated its TLUS 360 laser warning system on the M60T, as well as the YAMGOZ situational awareness system and new SARP RWS for under-armour close-in protection.
Aselsan’s TLUS comprises a central processing unit and four sensor units – mounted on the M60T turret – that can detect laser range finders, laser designators and laser beam riders (continuous wave and pulsed). According to the manufacturer, it offers high resolution direction of arrival information that can then cue countermeasures, such as smoke grenades, and alert the crew to the threat in order to take evasive manoeuvres.
Turkey is also expected to begin upgrading its older M60A3 fleet, with the army acquiring nearly 700 of these vehicles from surplus US stock in the 1990s, as well as a few hundred A1 variants. Under a modernisation programme known as ‘Euphrates’, the army plans to improve the survivability, firepower and situational awareness capabilities of these legacy tanks. This project has taken on increased importance owing to delays to the indigenous ALTAY tank programme.
Photos of a prototype upgraded M60A3 released on social media appear to show a new turret armour configuration, with angled explosive reactive armour (ERA) tiles covering the legacy structure to improve survivability. The photos also show side skirts are optimised for additional ERA appliqué blocks if required. The Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSB) did not respond to a request for comment when asked about the current status of the programme.
To further increase survivability against ATGMs, the Turkish Army also has ambitions to integrate APS on its MBT fleet. APS is growing in popularity when it comes to vehicle self-protection, as it is seen as one solution to the growing weight problem that many AFVs face today when continually adding armour. Common across all APS products is the ability to sense, characterise and rapidly intercept a projectile before it can reach the armour, though these can differ from launcher-based systems to distributed near-field types.
For Turkey’s APS ambitions, the army is set to integrate the AKKOR and PULAT APS from Aselsan on several vehicles, according to the SSB. These are two different systems from the Turkish company; the latter PULAT system is a licensed version of the Ukrainian ZASLON-L system, while the former appears to be similar in configuration to IMI Systems’ IRON FIST technology, with turret-mounted radar arrays for projectile detection and rotating launchers to intercept incoming threats.
AKKOR is supposed to be integrated onto the Turkish Army’s new ALTAY tank by 2020, although continuing delays on that programme are likely to push fielding of the system into the next decade. AKKOR meanwhile has been shown on computer generated images of the M60, with the SSB beginning work on the project in June 2017 and live fire trials taking place in February 2018. In August, the SSB said 40 M60T tanks would receive the AKKOR APS, although additional details have not been released.