The locally developed Eitan — Hebrew for steadfast — will be deployed alongside new Namers and will replace old M113s that still support the bulk of Israeli infantry.
Sources here said it will weigh no more than 35 tons and will incorporate a new generation of active protection, an advanced turret and a full complement of munitions and sensors.
Field demonstrations are slated by the end of next year, with initial serial production expected to begin by 2020.
"It will be a lot lighter [than Namer] and will be designed to cost," said Maj. Gen. Guy Zur, commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Ground Forces Command. "It may be less good [than the Namer], but it will be affordable and allow us to equip a large part of our force."
Defense and industry sources said the MoD-owned Tank Production Authority south of Tel Aviv has one prototype in production and another in its advanced planning phase.
In parallel, MoD's MAFAT Research and Development Bureau is working on a demonstrator program called Carmel aimed at driving the design of Israel's future tank, a follow-on to the 65-ton Merkava Mk4.
Sources say Carmel — a Hebrew acronym for Advanced Ground Combat Vehicle — will not be a Merkava Mk5, nor will it replace the Mk4, which is expected to remain in production through 2020.
Rather, it is a research-and-development program aimed at a state-of-the-art, medium-weight combat vehicle. It will most likely be treaded, rather than wheeled, and designed to weigh around 32 tons.
"It won't be Merkava Mk5. The operational requirement will be something entirely different," one source said of the envisioned future tank.
Defense and industry sources anticipate development and demonstration testing will extend over the coming decade or more, depending on the maturation of lightweight materials, advanced technologies and a spectrum of planned subsystems.
"Carmel is much longer-range. It will not compete with the ongoing production program [of Eitan] or with the Merkava Mk4," a defense source told Defense News.
Sources noted that just as Eitan will be deployed alongside the heavier Namer in future ground maneuvering scenarios, the fruits of the Carmel demonstrator program will eventually be deployed alongside Merkava Mk4s.
Both new vehicles are intended to be integrated with existing heavy armor into the same digitized command-and-control network, providing war planners with more scenario-tailored options for maneuvering war, they added.
In a recent interview, he said Plan Horizon anticipates initial fielding of the wheeled Eitan "in much less than 10 years, perhaps even five." In contrast, the Carmel future tank demonstrator is not expected to enter service until 2025 or 2027, Zur said.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.