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Gun Makers Gear Up for $1B Israeli Contest

Oct. 19, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME   |   Comments
Israeli, European and US firms are lining up to compete for the program to replace the Israel Defense Forces Artillery Corps's M109 gun.
Israeli, European and US firms are lining up to compete for the program to replace the Israel Defense Forces Artillery Corps's M109 gun. (Israel Defense Forces)
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TEL AVIV — Israeli and international firms are gearing to compete for a new self-propelled gun for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Artillery Corps, a prospective multiyear modernization program estimated to exceed US $1 billion.

Characterized here as a top ground force investment priority, the gun aims to replace nearly 50-year-old M109 self-propelled howitzers

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Roy Riftin, IDF chief artillery officer, listed the new gun as key to the ground force’s Fire2025, a strategic investment plan for firepower that is lethal, longer in range and more precise, yet flexible enough for effective use across the operational spectrum.

But final approval to initiate the program as part of the IDF’s Teuza (Valor) 2014-’18 plan is pending the outcome of workshops to be conducted this month by the IDF General Staff.

If approved, the competition will likely involve a crew-saving, autonomously loaded 52-caliber cannon and 155mm barrel integrated on a refurbished or new, low-cost chassis. IDF users expect the autonomous, automatically loading gun to fire smart projectiles at a rapid rate, taking advantage of precision guidance kits already developed by local industry, sources here said.

Local companies competing for prime contractor status include privately owned Elbit Systems; and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Israel Military Industries (IMI).

International companies involved in the anticipated bid include Lockheed Martin’s Dallas-based Missiles and Fire Control unit, and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall Defence, both based in Munich.

Elbit Systems has been talking with potential partners, but may opt to go it alone based on the production infrastructure of its Elbit USA subsidiary and legacy capabilities of its recently acquired Soltam Systems, Israel’s premier artillery provider.

Elbit completed its acquisition of Yokneam, Israel-based Soltam Systems in 2010, and it has been working with the IDF on options for meeting requirements for the new gun. At the same time, Elbit executives said they continue to work with the IDF to optimize C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) interoperability of all ground force elements through its ongoing Tzayad Digital Army Program.

Boaz Cohen, vice president for land systems in Elbit’s Land and C4I Division, said the company has developed nearly all of the essential elements for an indigenous Israeli offering. He estimated it would take about two years to integrate, test and qualify a new gun specifically tailored to IDF requirements.

“As the only gun manufacturer in Israel, we have all the essential building blocks in place,” Cohen said. “We have the auto loader, the gun, breech, elevation system, electronics system and, of course, the requisite C4I to meet whatever the IDF ultimately determines as its future gun requirements.”

IMI is expected to team with Rheinmetall on a comparatively lower-cost modular upgrade package aimed at extending the operational service of its vast M109 inventory for another 40 years, defense and industry sources here said. Rheinmetall declined to comment.

First reported by Israeli defense industry analyst Tamir Eshel, editor of the online Defense Update, the IMI proposed upgrade — M10917 Spark — introduces a longer, modern 155mm/52-caliber barrel on a re-engined M109 chassis. Sources here confirmed the IMI proposal will feature the automatic shell-loading capabilities of the PzH2000, developed by KMW and Rheinmetall for the German Army, which reduces current eight-man crews to three or four gunners.

As for IAI, the company is promoting a KMW artillery gun module integrated on a Lockheed Martin-built M270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System) chassis.

The IAI-proposed option is expected to include IAI-developed precision navigation and other company-developed subsystems, with final assembly performed at Stark Aerospace, the company’s Columbus, Miss.-based subsidiary, or at Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control plant in Dallas.

In an interview, retired Brig. Gen. Shmuel Yachin, a former defense research and development director who coordinates land systems programs for IAI, said it was itself positioning for a lead role in meeting future IDF requirements.

“If we can detect the exact location of targets, add smart fuzes that precisely navigate regular [155mm] projectiles and a new generation of longer artillery tubes, the IDF will undergo a real revolution in the fires arena,” Yachin said in the interview.

In contrast to reports this year, industry sources insist IAI does not have a teaming agreement with Lockheed. Sources here said any understandings IAI or IMI may have with KMW or Rheinmetall are subject to technology transfer agreements between the Israeli and German defense ministries.

IAI declined comment on its proposed gun solution or on prospective international partners.

Avi Felder, head of IMI, said the company’s experience in armored vehicles and weaponry, as well as its intimate understanding of IDF concepts, make it a strong candidate for meeting future ground force requirements.

Morri Leland, director of international business development at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said the company is exploring relations with Israeli industry to identify the best solution to meet IDF requirements. In parallel, he said it “is working directly with the Israeli government to identify the best solution to meet their future artillery needs.”

In an Oct. 16 statement, Leland cited the company’s proven capabilities in delivering integrated systems solutions to customers worldwide, including launch and delivery platforms, fire control systems and weaponry.

“We believe that adapting the highly successful MLRS M270 launch/delivery platform to incorporate a highly automated gun system is one way to provide a long-range, lethal and flexible solution,” Leland said.

“This choice also has the advantage of being a very cost-effective path, given the synergy that could be gained by supporting a command system that is projected to be in service until at least the year 2050,” he added.

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