Airbags ‘Special Magic’ To Defeat RPGs

OSD is sponsoring tests of a new system designed to defeat RPG warheads, called TRAPS, it deploys airbags around a vehicle that neutralize incoming warheads. TRAPS manufacturer Textron says the system has proven succssful in recent live fire tests.

At the Army’s annual convention and massive weapons show last month here in Washington, DC, I came across an interesting rocket propelled grenade (RPG) defensive system, readily configurable to Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. The Tactical RPG Airbag Protection System, called TRAPS, does pretty much what the name says, it deploys an airbag around a vehicle to defeat RPG warheads, according to manufacturer Textron.

The ever-growing MRAP family of vehicles are designed to protect their occupants from IED blasts with their v-shaped hulls and elevated crew compartment. The vehicles are not so well designed to handle the “ambush” part of their name, particularly if that ambush includes RPGs. Your run –of-the-mill RPG, say, the ubiquitous RPG-7, can easily penetrate more than a foot of rolled homogenous steel. Needless to say, neither the MRAPs nor the Humvees carry anything approaching that much armor.

The field expedient in Iraq and Afghanistan has been to weld steel cages onto high-value MRAP targets, such as the route clearing Buffalo. The cage provides stand-off armor protection, causing the RPG warhead to detonate prematurely and thus lose its blast and armor penetrating effect. Problem is, the steel cages are heavy and make the vehicles unwieldy and difficult to maneuver down narrow city streets.

That’s where TRAPS could come in handy. It uses radar to detect an incoming RPG and then deploys airbags on the targeted side or aspect of the vehicle. Using a bit of what Textron’s Stephen Greene called “special magic,” when the RPG warhead hits the airbag, its actually neutralized and doesn’t explode. The rocket still hits the vehicle, but the warhead is essentially inert. That feature avoids another downside of the steel cages that detonate the RPG warhead, causing all sorts of potential shrapnel and blast danger to any dismounted infantry and civilians nearby.

TRAPS is undergoing OSD sponsored tests out in Socorro, New Mexico. Textron says the tests have so far been successful and the airbags defeated numerous live RPGs fired at different angles from both short and long ranges. Further tests will take place in the next few months.

The TRAPS test vehicle was a Humvee, but Greene said TRAPS can be put on the Abrams tank, the Bradley and the Stryker, as well as MRAPs and Humvees. Textron is also in discussions with all three industry teams competing for DoD’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program; at the Army convention, AM General’s JLTV prototype had TRAPS on it.

The IED remains the weapon of choice for global irregular warriors, including the various groups in Afghanistan. Of course that could change. The cross-border arms market with Pakistan is nowhere near as free flowing as it was during the Soviet occupation, but commanders in Afghanistan have noticed an uptick in RPGs in Taliban hands in recent months. Infantry fights still dominate there and the Taliban use RPGs as a form of portable “artillery.” This Lester Grau article from a 1998 edition of Infantry magazine contains a ton of interesting RPG information.

It’s always good to see industry trying to come up with innovative ways to protect troops from the weapons actually used by irregular fighters on today’s battlefields. We’ll keep you updated on the progress of TRAPS and other active-protection systems we come across.

Photo: VOA News

  • Dave

    Airbag is a great whiz bang tech idea but why wouldn’t a simple but strong netting around vehicle do same thing? Graphene netting would be strong enough to absorb velocity but would give enough to keep warhead from detonating.
    KISS reasoning is always better, lets not make it harder than it has to be.