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Israel To Develop Family Of New Armored Vehicles

Dec. 16, 2012 - 12:46PM   |  
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME   |   Comments
Israel's Defense Ministry is preparing to launch initial development of Rakiya, a family of light, lethal and self-protected armored vehicles optimized for urban battles beyond 2020. The ambitious program, a fifth-generation follow-on to Israel's Merkava Mk4 tank.
Israel's Defense Ministry is preparing to launch initial development of Rakiya, a family of light, lethal and self-protected armored vehicles optimized for urban battles beyond 2020. The ambitious program, a fifth-generation follow-on to Israel's Merkava Mk4 tank. ()
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TEL AVIV — Israel’s Defense Ministry is preparing to launch initial development of Rakiya, a family of light, lethal and self-protected armored vehicles optimized for urban battles beyond 2020.

The ambitious program, a fifth-generation follow-on to Israel’s Merkava Mk4 tank, is known here by its Hebrew acronym Rakiya (Horizon), which translates into Future Manned Combat Vehicle (FMCV).

Managed by the recently established Rakiya unit within MoD’s Defense Research and Development Directorate, the program involves nearly all branches of MoD and Israel’s Ground Force Command, starting with Merkava Program Directorate and Armored Corps and extending through Infantry, Artillery, Ordnance and Combat Engineering.

Retired Israeli Army Brig. Gen. Didi Benyoash, a veteran of Israel’s Defense Research and Development Directorate and chief armor officer in the Israeli Army reserves, was appointed last summer to lead the effort.

Operational requirements for Israel’s future armored force could be approved as early as January, sources here said, following months of MoD-led coordination with Brig. Gen. Yaron Livnat, Merkava program manager; Brig. Gen. Ofer Tsafrir, chief armored officer; Brig. Gen. Haim Rubin, chief of the Army’s Technology Division; and others.

And while design features of the new FMCV will depend on operational requirements now wending up the approval chain, military officers said the new vehicles are likely to be wheeled, agile and nearly half the weight of the 65-ton Merkava Mk4.

“We don’t yet have an operational requirement, but our people are looking ahead and trying to anticipate future needs,” an Army general officer said.

“We’re probably going to need a defended, quick, armored platform that can maneuver decisively in an urban environment and bring sufficient numbers of people and equipment to built-up areas. ... For that, we may not need a tank in the traditional sense,” the officer, a participant in the effort, told Defense News.

Sources here insist the FMCVs will not replace 65-ton Merkava Mk4s or Namer heavy troop carriers, which will continue to be built through 2020 and remain in service for decades to come.

Rather, the envisioned 35-ton FMCV variants will be integrated with heavy armor into the same digitized command-and-control network, providing war planners with more options that can be tailored to specific scenarios for maneuvering warfare.

“It won’t be Merkava-5. The operational requirement will be something entirely different,” another officer said.

Tentative plans are focused on distinct FMCV variants built from common components, but not necessarily similar chassis, sources here said.

“We’re not talking about a multimission vehicle, but a family of vehicles, each of which will have its own mission,” a defense source said.

An initial request for industry proposals is expected by the end of next year, a decade after the U.S. Army launched its now-defunct Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Sources here rejected any comparison to the failed U.S. effort to develop an integrated family of rapidly deployable, lightweight ground vehicles and supporting systems. While aspects of the two programs may be similar, sources here insisted Rakiya development will be more focused, much simpler and driven by reasonable operational requirements guided by risk-to-cost considerations and delivery milestones.

The U.S. Army spent some $18 billion in FCS development before the program was terminated in 2009.

“We’ve carefully studied FCS and learned a lot from the American experience,” a program official here said.

Sources here said funding levels and program milestones have not yet been set, and Rakiya could remain in development through the end of the decade. They noted that it took more than 10 years for the MoD’s Merkava Management Directorate to secure the funding needed to transition its Namer heavy troop carrier into production.

Based on the Merkava Mk4, the Namer is being produced in small quantities at an MoD facility south of Tel Aviv. But to ramp up to the large quantities the Israeli Army needs, MoD decided to open a U.S.-based production line financed by Israel’s annual U.S. military aid.

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