Out of Whole Cloth: Tarian Rocket Protection
Working with Britain’s Ministry of Defense, a transatlantic firm named AmSafe has come up with a novel solution to anti-tank rockets: fabric panels mounted on the sides of trucks and armored vehicles. Now, that concept has been extended to a “Quickshield” fabric net that serves as a quick, front-line patch for damaged cage armors.
To address the front-line threat posed by Rocket Propelled Grenades like the popular RPG-7, BAE’s LROD Cage Armorsteel “cage armors” have been used, as well as BAE’s much lighter aluminum solution. AmSafe’s broader Tarian (Welsh for “shield”) solution has been deployed by British forces, remains in development for new vehicle types, and offers several advantages over cage armor. Not least of which is a 50% weight savings over aluminum, and 85% savings over steel cage options.
The RPG-7 Problem, and Solutions
RPGs are almost as ubiquitous as “AK-47” Kalashnikov assault rifles – and almost as widely copied. The 1960s-era RPG-7 is the most widely produced and imitated variant. These weapons are a serious threat to vehicles in urban zones, where the terrain makes their short range a non-issue and creates a vast array of firing angles. They are also very popular and common in Afghanistan, where vehicles like the Royal Marines’ BvS10 Vikings were being forced to mount cage armor that exceeded their weight limits.
At the most passive end of the scale, Western main battle tanks like the M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, and Challenger carry very heavy layered composite armoring that can simply ignore RPG-7 strikes. At the most active end of the scale, expensive and maintenance-intensive new “hit to kill” systems like RAFAEL/IAI/GD’s Trophy can sense an incoming rocket, then fire projectiles to destroy it.
If that level of weight, or that level of complexity and expense, are not viable options, there are 2 general approaches to stopping rockets like RPGs.
One is reactive armor tiles that explode outward when hit, disrupting the blast.
The other is screens, which usually – but not always – means cage armoring. Screens can sometimes prevent detonation, or prevent the shaped charge jet from forming properly. That can involve shorting the crush fuze’s transmission, so its electric charge can’t ignite the explosive. Or it can work by preventing the shaped charge from ever forming a proper jet, turning the warhead into a big bang and a burning splatter of goo. Premature detonation, which prevents the shaped charge warhead from “focusing” its plasma jet properly and having its full effect, may also help, especially in fixed emplacements.
Appendix A of “BAE’s LROD Cage Armor” explains cage armor principles in more detail, and also explains their limitations.
AmSafe idea targeted some of those limitations.
Tarian: Development and Performance
Back in early 2005, AmSafe approached the British MoD’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) with an outline concept, based on research they had been doing in other areas of their business.
“Cold” approaches can be difficult in the defense industry, but AmSafe had built up contacts and credibility by applying engineered textiles to defense aerospace problems for many years. The firm has deep expertise at finding new textiles, and figuring out how to create items that catch objects. They’re the leading provider of aircraft and helicopter cargo nets to NATO countries outside the USA, and their products include the A400M‘s cargo net – which is the largest in the world, and can withstand 9g of force. They’re also the leading cargo net provider to the global airline market, where weight is money. Which creates a constant pressure toward lighter weight materials.
One of those materials had caught AmSafe’s eye. The firm kept hearing from the field that deployed vehicles were consistently 20% or more above their weight limit, a useful thing to know for a firm also makes vehicle barrier nets. The reason for that extra weight usually involves added armor, and steel cage armor is a major contributor.
Could this new material be used to solve that problem? If so, it would be much lighter. As a fabric, it would also allow something that bar armor does not: the addition of camouflage patterns.
DSTL became interested, and the program accelerated in 2007 after initial evaluations went well. In order to create a product that could meet the extreme environments and uses needed by the military, the joint AmSafe/DSTL project worked to continue development, conducted testing, and undertook extensive vehicle trials. DSTL’s fact sheet lists development costs at GBP 500,000, or about $825,000 at the time.
Tarian works like cage armor, albeit at 50% less weight than aluminum and 1/7 the weight of steel. Its panels are not larger than traditional cage armor, and fit into place using traditional bar/cage armor fixings and mountings. AmSafe representatives also describe it as “equally effective,” which is to say a significant improvement over zero protection, but not 100%.
The weight saved can be used to help vehicles last longer by remaining within their designed weight limits, or it can be traded to add more protection on the vehicle itself. Camouflage patterns can also be applied, in order to improve overall survivability by making the vehicle a more difficult target.
All of these properties are great, but Tarian needed to address a number of key risks before it could become a viable option for military vehicles.
AmSafe says that the material used in Tarian is fully flame retardant, which is very important if the RPG’s explosives are triggered, but its plasma jet doesn’t form correctly. DSTL also says that the vehicle has been tested against “petrol bombs,” aka. “Molotov Cocktails.” That makes immense sense, even though such weapons are very unlikely to harm an unprotected armored patrol vehicle or APC. A solution whose added protection could be defeated by lowest-tech methods wouldn’t be much use to patrol vehicles or armored personnel carriers, which are often exposed to urban situations involving close quarters and lots of people.
On another front, Tarian’s material is described as “highly resistant” to abrasion and cutting, a necessary trait for an attachment that’s guaranteed to take punishment during the rigors of military use. In full combat situations, Tarian also needs to remain effective after taking a hail of small arms fire. When asked, DSTL personnel told DID that Tarian “has been tested to the highest standards using a variety of grenades, rockets and small arms fired at different angles.” The British Ministry of Defence is reluctant to discuss further details for obvious reasons, but it does say that:
“Testing has shown that Tarian is very robust, and more than capable of withstanding battlefield wear and tear… and functioning as intended. If it does get damaged, it is very easy to replace in the field [due to its light weight].”
The last set of required tests involved potential visibility issues for troops driving or riding in Tarian protected vehicles. That seems to have gone well for Britain’s Oshkosh HET heavy trucks, which are now in service with the new fabric armor.
Tarian: Next Steps
Under the mutual agreement with DSTL, Tarian’s intellectual property is wholly AmSafe’s, and patents related to different stages of the product are currently in place or pending. Beyond that, there are 2 key tracks for any new product. One is market development, by finding new buyers, and new uses. The other is continued product development, which expands its market options.
Tarian market development begins in the UK. In 2009, trials were underway on different vehicles, including armored personnel carriers and armored fighting vehicles. If testing goes well, AmSafe expected additional orders.
While the company would not comment on specific trials at the time, the British Army’s popular MCV-80 Warrior light armored fighting vehicles already carry cage armor, and would be obvious candidates for Tarian. In the course of a different discussion, a BAE spokesperson said that:
“We are looking at using fabric armour to [protect] Warrior, but how a crew is supposed to see through this, I’m not sure. More on this soon.”
Another obvious candidate would the Royal Marines’ BvS10 Viking vehicles, which were replaced with ATTC Warthogs in Afghanistan for reasons that included armor requirements and operating weight issues.
Tarian can also offer additional protection for fixed installations like checkpoints, whose protection is frequently built of sand bags and similar materials. While HESCO barriers and similar “pre-fab filled form” systems have proven to be very effective against RPGs, they require engineering equipment to set up and take down. Tarian offers an option that’s lightweight enough to carry in on regular vehicles, and quickly set-up or take down using minimal equipment.
Beyond Britain’s shores, interest in vehicle and fixed installations picked up quickly after Tarian was unveiled at the June 2009 DVD show. UK DSTL have been cooperative with respect to channels into equivalent foreign defense departments, and the firm is at an early stage of discussions with several countries.
The American market will be more of a challenge, despite AmSafe’s facilities in Phoenix. It’s also a far larger opportunity, given the number of vehicles that could benefit from a Tarian-type solution. AmSafe has a long history of its own working with agencies like the US Army ARDEC, and the firm recently partnered with QinetiQ to offer its barbed X-Net vehicle arresting systems. The firm has supplied more than 4,000 over the last 6 years, including a 5-year military contract, and non-military use by Arizona’s border patrol. A program is underway for a larger X-Net version that would help arrest large trucks, something that would undoubtedly be popular for embassies and other key facilities. As was the case in Britain, an array of prior contacts and experience can be expected to help, if AmSafe’s offering matches priorities within the US military’s various agencies.
On the product development front, AmSafe continued working with the DSTL to develop a product that would supplement cage armor, instead of replacing it. That’s likely to be important to the firm, since its primary Tarian product has yet to see sales take off. “If you can’t replace it, supplement it” is a smart product strategy for revenue in the near term, and credibility building over the longer term.
Hence Tarian Quickshield, a fabric net that fits as a substitute panel for damaged bar armor, which can be carried in collapsed form on the vehicle, and applied in the field without tools.
Contracts and Key Events
Sept 14/11: AmSafe announces a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Singapore Technologies Kinetics Ltd (ST Kinetics) to market Tarian on its vehicles, and in “areas where it has a strong presence.”
The team also displays a Tarian-equipped ST Kinetics’ Bronco all-terrain light APC at DSEi 2011. The British Army is one of the Bronco’s operators, and has deployed its “Warthogs” to Afghanistan. ST Kinetics also produces a range of other armored vehicles, however, including its Bionix tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicle and its Terrex 8×8 wheeled APC.
March 18/11: The UK MoD announces a GBP 2.6 million (about 4 million) contract with AmSafe for a new product, Tarian Quickshield. The MoD describes it as:
“Tarian QuickShield is a lightweight net or ‘band aid for bar armour’, strong enough to protect against rocket-propelled grenades, which will be used to rapidly replace damaged bar armour on military vehicles in the field. Stowed in the vehicle, the netting can be fitted immediately without any tools. It is due to be delivered to Afghanistan next month…”
June 25/09: AmSafe fields inquiries from Australia, Israel, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. Subsequent discussions would add Canada to the list, and the firm continues to work with the UK MoD and its own American customers to bring Tarian to the US market.
June 24/09: AmSafe Bridport and the UK DSTL unveil Tarian armor at the Defence Vehicle Dynamics 2009 show at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedford. The UK MoD states that:
“More than 20 sets of TARIAN armour have been ordered and are already being used on operations in Afghanistan, with half of them fitted to the Heavy Equipment Transporters [DID: Oshkosh heavy trucks].”
April 2009: The MoD places an initial production order for Tarian armor sets. AmSafe is precluded from mentioning the number or value of the order by an MoD directive, but DVD 2009 announces that over 20 sets have now been fitted to the British Army’s HET heavy trucks.
2007: Testing and development accelerate, after initial trials.
2005: AmSafe approaches the UK MoD’s DSTL with the TARIAN idea.
- UK MoD – Defence for Business. Info on how to do business with the MoD. Asked about the process of engaging an organization like DSTL with a new idea, a spokesperson responded:
“And the short answer is ‘it depends’. Sometimes DSTL spots something that we think is interesting and could have a defence application so we get some product and do some testing, other times the testing ‘contract’ comes via the MOD. Sometimes the process can be very quick, a matter of weeks, when there is a urgent operational requirement, sometimes the development can take years. Dstl’s solutions can be high-tech, low-tech or no-tech, some products are off the shelf with minor modifications some are developed from scratch by DSTL then we find a company to deliver, sometimes we get a near final product from industry and we do some testing and final modifications.”
- Defense Update – Countering the RPG Threat. Deals with more recent RPG variants, as well as the RPG-27.
- QinetiQ – Q-Net. Similar concept to Tarian Quicjkshield, picked to equip some American blast-resistant vehicles. Developed jointly by QinetiQ North America, DARPA and ONR.
- Textron Defense Systems (May 26/10) – Textron Defense Systems’ Tactical RPG Airbag Protection System Demonstrates Maturity, Performance in Government Testing. Another approach to the problem, but also uses Tarian Quickshield.
- Infantry (May-August 1998) – The RPG-7 On the Battlefields of Today and Tomorrow. By Mr. Lester W. Grau, Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS.
- US Army TRADOC 3U Bulletn (1976) – Soviet RPG-7 Antitank Grenade Launcher (SEC UNCLAS)