Shields Up

Safe, secure, protected; these are just a few of the adjectives that we hear when we are told our military soldiers are on the front lines. One of the tools that are used to help keep our nation’s military individuals safe in battle zones is the tank! Tanks have been around since the very beginning of the 20th century. And ever since tanks have been a part of the modern battle field, the need to destroy them has accompanied them along the way.

For the newly modern battlefields, this idea of being able to destroy a tank has come in the form of shape charges and explosive warheads. Most of these are high energy projectiles that are usually shot from a shoulder mounted firing mechanism in urban environments. They work by having a high energy round being propelled at the tank. Once the round strikes the tank, the energy this produces instantly melts the front of the round, allowing this hot metal to penetrate the tank armor and cause massive damage. This means that either the tank armor must be thick enough to withstand the hot metal from the round, or another solution must be devised. This is where reactive armor comes into play.

This armor was devised first by the Russians what is thought to be as early as the 1950’s. Then, later on in the 60’s and 70’s, the Germans produced reactive armor. It was then used on Israeli tanks during the Lebanon War. This was the first time reactive armor was used in the battle field and it was found to be very effective. Thus the continued research and development led to the current stage of the reactive armor that exists today.[1]

Currently, there are a couple of different types of reactive armor that have been developed for this military application. All of these types have the same function: protect the soldiers in the vehicle while helping limit the weight of the vehicle to make it more versatile in the field. The most basic of these types of armor is explosive reactive armor. This method uses a face plate on top of an explosive charge which is then mounted to the outside of the vehicle. When the shape charge strikes the plate, it creates a chain reaction and the explosive detonates underneath the plate. This sends the plate and the shape charge away from the vehicle preventing any damage to the occupants and thereby dispersing the energy of the shape charge.

A major downside to this type of armor is that since an explosive is being detonated, upon detonation it creates another safety risk for the ground troops around the vehicle. So, this type of armor has a “blast radius”. This means that troops must maintain a safe distance from the vehicle at all times in case it were to be struck by a shape charge, which isn’t good if the vehicle needs to be maintained in the field, or if problems were to arise during an attack upon the vehicle while troops where in the blast radius of the reactive armor. Also, ground troops are an integral part to how the tank moves through the urban battle field since it is usually hard to see out of a metal box.265px-Image_Explosive_Reactive_Armor

This problem leads to another form of reactive armor called non-explosive reactive armor. This type has the same basic form as the previous example; however, instead of an explosive behind a face plate, there is some sort of highly absorbent material such as plastic or rubber. This creates a barrier between the tanks armor and the shape charge. Once the charge strikes the armor plate, the energy disperses into the material behind it. Then as the molten metal of the shape charge reaches this material, it has trouble dispersing through it because the material absorbs a lot of the energy from the charge. This round is more versatile and safer because there is no explosive detonation. While explosive reactive armor can only be used once per plate, the non-explosive plate can be used until the plate has been damaged and needs replacement. Thus allowing the occupants of the vehicle to remain safe and unharmed, while also allowing the troops outside the vehicle to do their job as well.

Currently today both of these types of reactive armor are being used by the US and British military forces in order to protect the brave soldiers that are fighting for their countries. However, there are other ideas for new types of reactive armor that have arisen that might further the cause even more. This new type of “shield” is called electric reactive armor. This uses tens of thousands of amps to vaporize some of the shape charge jet. This disables the charge and makes it a flying piece of rubble this defusing the shape charge. This type of “shield” or armor isn’t very applicable for tanks due to the fact that the previously mentioned armor works already. This type of armor will be used on other types of heavy military vehicles such as HUMV’s and large trucks. This way all of the types of transportation for our troops can be “shielded” from harm.

This development has drastically changed the way our troops are protected while trying to do their job in the field. Hopefully new developments can be made in the future to further the ability to protect our soldiers from harm.

(Image from [2].)


  1. Add-On-Reactive Armor, pp. 1154–1164.
  2. Explosive Reactive Armor.