Israel Military Industries says its Iron Fist is only a year or so away from initial fielding. (Israel Military Industries)
TEL AVIV — Israeli defense planners are gearing up for a major international competition on a second-generation active protection system (APS) for front-line ground vehicles, with a request for information to be released in early spring.
The planned competition, potentially worth billions of Israeli shekels in multiyear orders, stems from repeated failures by Israel’s MoD to compel cooperation between Rafael, producer of the operational Trophy, and Israel Military Industries (IMI), developer of the Iron Fist.
For more than two years, MoD officials have implored executives from the two state-owned firms to join forces on a common, second-generation system that provides a cheaper and more effective answer to future threats than the first-generation Trophy.
But Rafael has insisted on taking the lead in any second-generation system while IMI argues that its Iron Fist embodies next-generation requirements and is only a year or so away from initial fielding.
MoD’s 2010 directive to merge attributes of Trophy and Iron Fist into a common system for all ground vehicles reversed earlier plans for parallel buys of Trophy-equipped tanks and Iron Fist-protected troop carriers.
Current plans for an international tender appear to comply with findings from an Israeli government investigation last May that called on MoD to conduct an “urgent and orderly” competition to equip Namer carriers with the much-needed protection.
The May 1 report by former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss criticized acquisition flip-flops, statutory infractions and its inability to manage industry infighting for costly and troop-threatening delays in fielding APS-equipped troop carriers.
The report noted that after nearly a decade of parallel development of rival systems — and two years of failed attempts to forge cooperation between the two suppliers — that Israel’s Namer continues to roll off production lines without the required active protection.
A senior MoD source estimated that it could take about four years to ready a second-generation APS for operational fielding. In the meantime, he insisted that all new Merkava Mk4s and Namers would be equipped with Trophy.
“Our directive is to have commonality with the existing system [Trophy], and not to split the pie in different pieces,” the MoD official said.
“In parallel, if the companies are not willing to cooperate, we will come out with a request for information in March 2013 for Generation B.”
Spokesmen for Rafael and IMI declined to comment on what several industry executives dismissed as a last-ditch attempt by MoD to forge cooperation between competing firms.
An Israeli Army officer said he was unaware of current procurement plans to equip Namer carriers with Trophy, and that a follow-on contract now being negotiated with Rafael is strictly for new Merkava Mk4 tanks.
In an interview last week, the officer said the Army provided a Namer vehicle to IMI in May for purposes of integrating the Iron Fist. Integration and testing should conclude by year’s end, after which the Iron Fist-equipped Namer will be put through rigorous Army-managed field tests.
“By April 2013, we’ll have a very good understanding of what Iron Fist offers to the Namer,” the officer said.
He added, “The minute we go for a competition, the one who has the best, most cost-effective solution to offer will take the cake.”