As tensions on its
borders grow, so do rivalries among Israel's defense
Behind the scenes of IDF's
decision to deploy Rafael-developed
the Gaza border, company's rival Israel Military
Industries is fighting for survival.
advanced Russian-made Kornet missiles from the Gaza Strip, earlier in the month and damaged an IDF Merkava tank.
There were no injuries. Such anti-tank capability has, up to now, belonged only to Syria and Hezbollah northern fronts.
Because of this new development with Kornet threats, one of the two new Merkava IV BAZ battalions
has been deployed to the Gaza theater under the command of Lt Colonel Itai Brin of Battalion 9 which
has "A" type of Merk IV BAZ tanks that been upgraded with the Active Protective System ADDED onto
their existing turrets. The 2nd battalion of "B" tanks remains on the Golan Plateau with 'Integrated' APS
systems in place. Mk 4 BAZ variants: in
Merkava IV BAZ 'Aleph' M 1999 thru 2005 Merkava IV BAZ 'Beth' 2006 until 2012
"Before General TAL passed away in 2010 he said in a Defense Review interview that he seriously thought that Rafael should on
their own, offer to merge with IMI in the area of the Active Protective Technologies much like IAI and Tadiran was forced to do in
the 1970's for UAV production, development, research and world wide marketing. This makes very practical sense on hind sight
as IMI was in 1990 the original developer of the APS system for naval craft and armor vehicles when they hit a brick wall trying to
find a way not to attack friendly firing vehicles on a crowded & confusing battlefield. That is when Rafael stepped in and many of
the IMI personnel came over to the new Rafael program. In fact it was announced in the October 1999 Bahamaneh article on the
forth coming new Merkava Mark IV for the following decade would incorporate an APS system that was still under development."
Whether one chooses to call this APS system TROPHY, or the acronym ASPRO which Rafael tried but failed to impress anyone
or even the short lived WINDBREAKER which foreigners made fun of with it's reference to breaking wind, the useless and little
relevant meaning TROPHY still lingers while in Israel the Israeli local name Me'il Ruach has NO correct pronunciation!
Above new UP-GRADED MERKAVA Mk IV BAZ M with sharp shooting Knights Mk4 FCS and Trophy II add on turret top
view of this new threat, IDF has decided to
deploy along the Gaza border one of two tank
battalions that is
equipped with the Me'il Ruach Active Protective System (APS), an Israeli sophisticated technology used against
anti-tank weapons (marketed abroad under the name Trophy), which was developed by Rafael Advanced
Defense Systems for the past decade. The image of burned-out tanks destroyed by missiles during the Second
Lebanon War is still fresh in Israel's collective psyche. Me'il Ruach provides substantive defense against such
attacks - and makes a good impression in photographs as well.
the scenes, a tough battle is being waged
between two state-owned defense industries.
Rafael, is at the cutting edge of technology & has been selected to engage in this special tank-defense project for
the international market; the project has the potential of bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues
(each such system costs an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 U.S. dollars). On the other side is Israel Military
Industries, a company that has floundered for years and is now fighting for survival.
Last summer, the
Defense Ministry decided to suspend its
investment in a competitive system called
developed by rival IMI, which would provide special defense to armored personnel carriers (APCs ). IMI had
viewed this as its flagship project for years to come. For his part, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is expected to
hold additional discussions on this subject before the subject is closed.
State Comptroller's Office has received
inquiries from concerned citizens about
projects and seems inclined to launch an investigation about how decisions were made with respect to their
development. Despite the IDF and Defense Ministry argument that the Me'il Ruach is ready for use and better
suited for conditions in the field (a controversial claim ), it's hard to dismiss the time factor involved: The process
of outfitting tanks with Me'il Ruach is gradual and protracted. At that rate, it could take years before the IDF
infantry will benefit from comparable sorts of defense systems. Senior retired officers claim that the fact that it
takes so long to install the Me'il Ruach will cost the army lives during the next round of warfare. Officials in the
Defense Ministry tend to disagree. The IDF gave the Go-Ahead anyway on the TEFEN 2006-2012 contract.
So as of middle of 2011 over 100 Merks have been produced and are in various stages of introduction, battle
field testing and deployed. Most are Add-On 'M' version with 30 of the BAZ Beth following @ 60 per annum.
Above MERKAVA Mk IV BAZ M part of post 2006 Golan build up (note rear turret chains on legacy 1999-2006 Merk upgrades)
This unit is shown with thinner slotted armor side skirts. See below for up graded skirts. Chains only missing on post 2007 Merks
The massive 2006 to
2012 TEFEN multi billion dollar multi year
IDF up-grade program gave the armor corps'
entire fleet of Merk 4's to be brought up to the latest in cutting edge standards of: LIC type urban combat tank
configurations, anti IED Thor systems, anti attack helicopter gun ship FCS systems, GPS global positioning
systems, net centric joint service communication and control systems, UAV attack and surveillance autonomous
systems (both On-Board and tertiary origin equipment from 2nd and third sources), new technology ammunition
which APAM is just one of a family of new projectiles, counter battery direction Fire Detectors (Droid) and the
least reported but, potentially most dramatic change is in the area of Combat Field Tactics & Tank Maneuvers.
MERKAVA Mk IV BAZ M head on view shows to advantage Trophy Light II add on accessory to a Legacy 1999-2006 Merk IV
Since the early 1990s, local defense experts have been considering the development of systems that would block
anti-tank missiles fired against armored vehicles, but interest picked up in the aftermath of the debacles in Lebanon.
Merkava 4 is considered the world's most crew protected tank, yet military experts recognize the vulnerability of it
and other models in the face of advanced anti-tank missiles. Israel's urgent search for defensive mechanisms is
proceeding in tandem with that of Western armies that are dealing with field conditions in the Persian Gulf. Rafael
was the first company in the world to furnish a workable solution. Russia's Arena was and still is a tank failure.
The green light for
the procurement of the
was given around the time of the Second
Lebanon War in 2006. In parallel, IMI offered its rival system, the Iron Fist. Regarded by outside experts as
"brilliant in its simplicity, cheap and particularly effective," the latter system was first assembled in the spring of
2009. Then-deputy IDF chief Major General Dan Harel decided that it would be used for the army's growing fleet
of heavy Namer APCs. For development, the Defense Ministry allocated tens of millions of shekels to IMI. TEFEN
Allocations received by Rafael were greater, however. The day Harel announced his decision, several IMI executives
gathered to celebrate at a local bar (some were stopped by police on the way home, on suspicion of drunk driving).
Above in the frontal attack is the 'M' version of an Up-Graded Merkava IV BAZ current tank brought up to current Mk IV standards
In June 2010, IMI
received an official document from the
ministry's bureau for arms development,
declaring that the
Iron Fist had been deemed suitable for full-scale development, though it called for various improvements in the system.
Then, a month later, IMI officials detected a change of attitude. The official announcement came at the end of August:
Ministry was suspending development of Iron Fist, arguing that it was not battle worthy. In the future, IMI was told,
Iron Fist and Me'il Ruach would be merged, in order to produce the next generation of protective systems for Namers.
produces an array of missiles, has a
sterling reputation, a proven production,
marketing track record
and a management team that includes two charismatic, influential reserve major generals: chairman of the board
Ilan Biran and CEO Yedidia Ya'ari.
IMI, in contrast,
is the neglected child of the defense
establishment, and suffers, unfairly, from a
For several months now, it has not even had an active chairman of the board. IMI is trapped between the Defense
Ministry - which requires it to maintain an expensive production line for heavy ammunition, intended for emergencies
and the Finance Ministry, which wants to privatize the company. Lurking in the background is a worried workers
committee and real estate elements whose eyes are peeled at the lucrative properties on which IMI is quartered.
IMI has produced
some successful products, but is dependent
on the continued development of the Iron
Fist as a
means for survival. Defense Ministry officials have furnished a series of arguments for the decision in August, but
there seems to be an underlying, hidden one: Why furnish a huge budget, for at least five years, to a company
whose future is clouded by doubt?
Above what is normally not noticed with this Merkava Mk IV BAZ M version is the new battle formation tactics being field tested
and the newer thicker, solid ballistic side skirts. No UAV 2nd roof hatch on this unit which applies to only 1 out of 4 per company
Reappraisal and controversy
A reappraisal of
whether Iron Fist is indeed battle worthy
was undertaken by a team of experts that
brigadier generals: Ofir Shoham, Yaron Livnat and Eitan Eshel. On August 18, Defense Ministry director general
Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Shani, approved the team's conclusions. Iron Fist, according to IMI documents submitted to
the ministry, beats Trophy in all respects: Its warhead and its interception system are more effective, cheaper and
better suited for integration with other defense systems; and it can cope with a whole gamut of threats and missile-
firing ranges. Its response time is quick and it has the capability of addressing two simultaneous threats. Iron Fist
underwent hundreds of interception tests, some of them overseas, and succeeded in most of them, say the
documents. Plus, interest in purchasing the system, in the United States, Western Europe and East Asia, is high.
In addition, Avi
Felder, IMI's CEO, claimed recently that
Iron Fist has attained field-preparedness
faster than what was anticipated by ministry officials; production can be completed by the end of 2011, he insisted.
Also, a recent important test of Trophy, undertaken with a foreign country, revealed significant malfunctions.
There are a number
of related, controversial issues in this
whole story, but it is not really possible
to render a
definitive judgment about them. There is a long-standing debate about the replacement of Iron Fist's radar systems,
a requirement that IMI officials complain was coercively imposed; there is also debate about middle-ranking officers
whose promotion has been stalled because they publicly advocated the "wrong" defense system. Lurking behind
everything is IMI's sense of getting the short end of the stick.
"At play here is
structural inferiority," says an outside
observer who, like all other interviewees
for this report, spoke
on condition of anonymity. "Rafael is the defense system's darling. Think about a 45-year-old officer who is soon to
be discharged. He would have to be a saint to avoid thinking about who his next employer will be, when rendering
decisions on this issue. Rafael is a much better employment option than IMI. How does that affect a situation in
which IMI's solution is better than Rafael's?"
Above 1 of 'many' of the entire Mark 4 fleet being up-graded to 2012 standards going to Syria, Gaza and Lebanon fronts first
In the image above you can clearly now see the thicker and all solid side skirts, anti IED belly armor and UAV 2nd turret hatch.
A former IDF
officer, who held a top post in the IDF
General Staff, claims: "IMI's system is
clearly better than
Rafael's. Whoever says anything else is mistaken, and has been misled. The big scandal is that as a result of these
decisions, the Namer APC will not have a new APS system for years to come. That is a historic mistake - a blunder
whose cost will be human lives."
establishment's response is summed up by a
senior official who was involved in the
process. The Iron Fist's development and installation process is much longer than what IMI is suggesting, he declares:
"We have been through this with Rafael. Three years elapsed between presentation of proof that the technology is battle
worthy and that the system works - and actual installation of the system on tanks. You have to keep in mind that we are
talking about systems that work automatically in response to threats, and basically take decision-making power away
from the commander of the vehicle. We can't take any risks here. Windbreaker had been extensively tested for three
years before Iron Fist even got out of the starting blocks. IMI's forecast about capability within one year is unrealistic.
As time passed, we realized it would take more time and cost more than what we thought."
Above Merkava Mk IV BAZ M in hull down revetment defensive armor position here shown at Shizafon armor training camp
The decision, this
source claims, was well considered and
related directly to facts on the ground: "Udi
demanded an orderly process. The team reappraised the calculations in a systematic fashion, and decided that
there should be a merger, combining the huge amount of experience accumulated by Rafael and IMI's simpler
interception technology, which has less test experience."
acknowledges that the team's decision could
delay the installment of protective systems
on the Namer
APC, but says "this delay was necessary, in order to assess the situation." Success in one or another test, he adds,
does not necessarily mean that a defense system is operational, and he dismisses discussion of the malfunctioning
of Rafael's Trophy in recent tests. "Malfunctions always occur in tests. That doesn't cast doubt on the project."
Above new Merkava MkIV BAZ M under going field maneuvers on the Golan Heights facing Syrian Nakba day border protests
The official is especially perturbed by claims about risks posed to the lives of soldiers by this bureaucratic in-
fighting. "That is charlatanism. We are worried about soldiers' lives as much as about anything else. We ourselves
rescued casualties from damaged tanks. It is easy for retired generals to cast aspersions; whoever doesn't have
responsibility can say whatever he wants. The media lack the ability to decide which side is correct in this dispute.
Such judgment requires knowledge of engineering and technological matters.
have received strongly formulated warning
letters about the suspension of the Iron
Then in November 2010, the State Comptroller's Office started to collate these and other documents pertaining
to this issue, but it has yet to announce whether it will launch a formal investigation of who is behind this.
For their part, the
defense minister and the IDF chief of staff,
who have been at loggerheads about
matters in recent months, concur that a merger of the two defense systems is needed for the Namer APC. They
also seem to agree that IMI was nudged off the stage in an unpleasant way and this should be rectified.
Above a Merkava MkIV BAZ M with the 'blue' practice test panel to record Trophy hits - misses for post battle exercise critiques
Barak, who visited
IMI earlier this month, alluded to Iron
Fist's "interesting advantages," and has
look into the entire subject seriously in the weeks ahead. Up to now, discussion about merging the systems for
the Namer have yielded no substantive results. Neither IMI nor Rafael is thrilled about the idea. IMI officials
worry that Rafael is simply waiting for Iron Fist to be shelved before it takes control of the Namer APS project.
Meantime, the IMI board has decided to continue to invest in Iron Fist, despite the suspension of government
allocations. Tests overseas in India and USA continue, and IMI is hoping for Barak and the Defense Ministry
to be more supportive.
The ministry issued
a short response to this article: "The
Defense Ministry expects that the defense
will not conduct their business rivalry in the media. Should Rafael and IMI not regroup quickly and decide to
cooperate on the Namer system, the ministry's director general would be able to use his authority, take the
project away from them and deliver it to a third company. Both companies should recall that they are owned
by the state."
saga is thus
far from being concluded and in months to
come it will
doubtless feature often continuing bureaucratic and business skirmishes. JerusalemPostDec2010