An M2A3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle prepares to fire on a range at Camp Shelby Joint Force Training Center, Miss., in 2021. (US Army National Guard/Sgt. Jovi Prevot)

GLOBAL FORCE 2024 — The US Army quietly inked a deal for a new active protection system for M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, despite having previously saying it was unable to afford them, a two-star general told Breaking Defense today.

Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, the service’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, said that the Army managed to move money around that will allow the service to finally equip the Elbit Systems-produced Iron Fist Light Decoupled (IF-LD) onto a handful of Bradleys, but cautioned that the total procurement is more in the “dozens” than fleet-wide. 

“I can say that we have gone into production on APS for Bradley in limited quantities,” Dean said in a brief interview from the show floor of the AUSA Global Force conference. “We were able to find some efficiencies [in the supplemental] that allowed us to buy small quantities of Iron Fist.

The service is still nailing down the fielding plan but as it buys new Bradleys to replace those sent to Ukraine, they will come off the production line ready to accept Iron Fist APS. What isn’t clear yet, according to Dean, is if the APS will be integrated immediately or if it will be kept in reserve until a unit deploys, an avenue the Army is using for its Abrams fleet.

For years the service has been hunting for APS’ to integrate onto M1 Abrams main battle tanks, Bradleys and Strykers to protect soldiers inside from incoming threats like rocket propelled grenades and one-way attack drones. 

It eventually selected two systems from Israeli firms: Buying Rafael’s Trophy APS for the M1A2 Abrams System Enhancement Package version 3 (SEPv3) and picking Elbit Systems’ Iron Fist Light Decoupled for its Bradley line. While service leaders began purchasing the Trophy systems, funding shortfalls prevented them from acquiring Iron Fist (a position they reasserted as recently as December 2023).

But at a time when the wars inside Ukraine and Gaza showcase combat vehicle vulnerabilities to such aerial threats, something shifted for the Army, and in late-January the service posted a presolicitation notice seeking qualified sources that could provide Iron Fist to the Army as part of an eight-year deal for its Bradley vehicle upgrade initiative.

Although some Abrams and, soon, some Bradleys will have APS protection, Strykers remain without a candidate. Last year the service completed limited characterization testing with a possible candidate called StrikeShield, a hybrid hard-kill and armor solution by Rheinmetall and its US partner Unified Business Technologies, but that didn’t prove to be the right solution. 

“We don’t have a suitable solution,” Dean said today.