Analysis: IDF in race against time to modernize armored vehicles

Innovations like Trophy mean that tanks, APCs don't just fire; they also gather real-time intelligence on the enemy.

August 12, 2016 01:30
2 minute read.
Merkava tanks

Israeli army Merkava tanks churn up dust as they race towards targets during a live-fire exercise. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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A quiet revolution is taking place in the world of IDF armored vehicles, which could have a decisive impact on the next outbreak of hostilities in the region.

Armored platforms, once dismissed as relics of 20th-century warfare, are once again treasured assets and back in their familiar role at the forefront of ground operations planning, despite the complete transformation of the modern battlefield.

That’s because technological innovations are turning them into intelligence-gathering platforms that can reveal the exact location of hostile combatants all around them, keeping them lethal and relevant to 21st-century Middle Eastern warfare.

Instead of Syrian tank formations charging at the border, today, guerrilla anti-tank missile cells hide in buildings, tunnels and forests with a plan to fire on the IDF and move, again and again.

Rafael’s Trophy active-protection system, which has amassed half a million hours of operational activities since going into service, provides the clearest example of how armored vehicles can now deal with this threat.

Installed on board the Merkava MK 4 battle tank (and used heavily during the 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza), as well as on the Namer armored personnel carrier and the soon-toarrive Eitan APC, Trophy is well known for intercepting missiles and rocket-propelled grenades in mid-air. Yet, these defensive capabilities, it turns out, are only half the story.

The other half involves using the same system to go on the offensive, and using the enemy’s own missile attacks against it.

Trophy’s radars, when installed onboard vehicles, instantly detect the position of the cell that fired the missile, and the IDF’s command and control network can broadcast those coordinates to all friendly forces in the area.

That means that an enemy cell that fired on a tank or APC with Trophy will itself become a target in seconds and is unlikely to fire again.

The return fire will appear in seconds, and can come from anyone logged in to the IDF’s “network,” be it another tank, an artillery gun further back or a combat helicopter with precision-guided missiles that received the data. Alternatively, the tank that was fired on can return fire instantly.

Either way, the IDF’s new armored vehicles now map out the position of the threats around them, meaning that their role as intelligence gatherers is becoming as important as their ability to fire, and push through hostile terrain.

Defense industries and military brass are currently in a race against time to phase out old APCs and tanks that do not have these abilities, while developing a myriad of sensors, radars and other options to boost this ability further.

In any potential ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or the range of jihadist factions in Syria, these technological changes mean that armored vehicles will, as they did in the last century, lead the way.

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