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'Electric armour' vaporises anti-tank grenades and shells


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'Electric armour' vaporises anti-tank grenades and shells

By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent

(Filed: 19/08/2002)

An electric "force field" for armoured vehicles that vaporises anti-tank grenades and shells on impact has been developed by scientists at the Ministry of Defence.

The "electric armour" has been developed in an attempt to make tanks and other armoured vehicles lighter and less vulnerable to anti-tank grenade launchers such as those used by the Taliban and al-Qa'eda fighters in Afghanistan.

It could be fitted to the light tanks and armoured personnel carriers that will replace the heavy Challenger II tanks and Warrior APCs in one of the two British armoured divisions.

The ubiquitous RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher can be picked up for a mere $10 in most of the world's trouble spots but is capable of destroying a tank and killing its crew. When the grenade hits the tank, its "shaped-charge" warhead fires a jet of hot copper into the target at around 1,000mph. This is capable of penetrating more than a foot of conventional solid steel armour.

The new electric armour is made up of a highly-charged capacitor that is connected to two separate metal plates on the tank's exterior. The outer plate, which is bullet-proof and made from an unspecified alloy, is earthed while the insulated inner plate is live.

The electric armour runs off the tank's own power supply. When the tank commander feels he is in a dangerous area, he simply switches on the current to the inner plate.

When the warhead fires its jet of molten copper, it penetrates both the outer plate and the insulation of the inner plate. This makes a connection and thousands of amps of electricity vaporises most of the molten copper. The rest of the copper is dispersed harmlessly against the vehicle's hull.

But despite the high charge, the electrical load on the battery is no more than that caused by starting the engine on a cold morning.

In a recent demonstration of the electric armour for senior Army officers, an APC protected by the new British system survived repeated attacks by rocket-propelled grenades that would normally have destroyed it several times over.

Many of the grenades were fired from point-blank range but the only damage to the APC was cosmetic. The vehicle was driven away under its own power.

Prof John Brown, of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which developed the Pulsed Power System at its R&D site at Fort Halstead, Kent, said it was attracting a lot of interest from both the MoD and the Pentagon.

With the easy availability of RPG-7 rocket launchers "it only takes one individual on, say, a rooftop in a village to cause major damage or destroy passing armoured vehicles", he said.

But the use of electric armour, which will protect against all shaped-charge warheads including artillery and tank shells, would reduce the threat to zero.

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