TEL AVIV — Nearly a decade later than planned, Israel this week began operational testing of its Namer heavy troop carrier equipped with the indigenously developed Trophy Active Protection System (APS).
In a statement released Thursday, the Defense Ministry announced that it had completed integration of Trophy on its first Namer, a heavy troop carrier based on the locally developed Merkava Mk4 main battle tank.
After a series of operational tests that are now taking place, the Ministry's Tank Production Office (TPO) will begin serial installation of Trophy on all new Namer vehicles rolling off the production line at the Ministry's TPO facility east of Tel Aviv.
"At the end of a series of tests that are taking place in these days, we will begin serial installation of the system on additional vehicles. As such, we will implement MoD policy of equipping every Namer that leaves the production line with the only operational active defense system in the world," TPO Director Brig. Gen. Baruch Matzliah said.
He added: "Namer with Trophy will provide the highest level of protection to war fighters of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and will grant them security and a significant edge on the field of battle."
Developed by the state-owned company Rafael, Trophy was initially planned for Merkava Mk4 tanks. A less expensive system developed by state-owned Israel Military Industries (IMI), known in Tel Aviv as Iron Fist, was initially developed to protect infantry deployed on Namer carriers and other armored vehicles.
But due to years of industrial infighting and the inability of MoD to impose cooperation among the battling firms, Namer carriers continued to roll off Israeli production lines without the requisite active protection that could have saved lives of Israeli infantrymen, according to numerous reports on the subject issued by Israel's comptroller-general.
Trophy is designed to neutralize all types of chemical energy threats in flight, from rocket-propelled grenades to high-explosive rounds and tandem warhead anti-tank guided missiles. According to Rafael marketing data, it provides 360-degree protection against multiple launchings "while maintaining a pre-defined safety zone for friendly dismounted troops."
It was first activated during a March 2011 operation at the Gaza border, when a Trophy-equipped Mk4 destroyed an RPG-29 with no damage to the protected tank or its four-man crew. It scored another operational intercept in August 2012 against an anti-tank missile fired at a Mk4 near a crossing point in central Gaza.
During Israel's summer 2014 Gaza war, Trophy validated itself in dozens of events, protecting tanks and crews over three weeks of high-threat maneuvering operations in built-up areas without a single hit to defended platforms and zero false alarms, said Giora Katz, head of Rafael's Land and Naval Systems Division.
"These tanks operated 24/7 in a high-intensity urban theater where hundreds of enemy threats of different types were launched at us while hundreds more of our own systems were being fired at the enemy," Katz told Defense News in a September 2014 interview following the war known in Tel Aviv as Operation Protective Edge.
In a mid-December interview at a base bordering Gaza, Capt. Tzuri Dill, a Merkava Mk4 tank commander with the 46th Battalion, part of the 401st Brigade, couldn't stop praising the benefits of Trophy-equipped tanks to the war fighting capabilities as well as morale of armored corps personnel.
He recounted an incident during Operation Protective Edge when a company commander's tank was targeted by a Kornet anti-tank missile from a distance of some 3.5 kilometers. "We understood the tank was targeted, but the system worked like a charm. Because of [Trophy], the threat was neutralized. Everything was automatic," he said.
"Our level of protection and our firepower allows us to feel very self-confident. Our tank commanders know they can go anywhere," Dill said. "We know our training and discipline, combined with this system that defends us, allows us to do our jobs, which is to find the enemy and kill him."
In another recent interview at the Gaza border, a company commander from the Golani infantry brigade said his men were excited at the prospect of receiving APS-equipped Namer troop carriers. "We have the best armor in the world, and soon with this new [APS] capability, we'll be even better equipped for every kind of scenario," Capt. Ran Tinikiguey told Defense News.
Maj. Gen. Guy Zur, commander of the IDF Ground Forces Command, said Trophy-equipped Namers will constitute an enormous step up in infantry maneuvering capabilities. "Our APS is state-of-the-art and is performing beyond expectations. It will be the Iron Dome of our infantry," Zur said of the anti-rocket and short-range missile intercepting system, also developed by Rafael.
He noted, however, that not all active duty and certainly not all reserve infantry will be equipped with the system due to high unit costs.
"It won't be a prerequisite, because it's expensive. Every platform must be equipped," Zur told Defense News in an interview late last year. "So we'll have to prioritize and outfit only those units facing the most complex threats."
Zur noted that "in the not too distant future," one APS system may be able to defend multiple platforms, perhaps "an entire battalion or even brigade." He said future plans call for a follow-on generation of active protection that will provide a much broader range of protective coverage than the single platform-protecting Trophy that exists today.
"That's the direction we're heading. Even if it costs ten times more than a single system, we won't need 100 or 1,000 systems, but perhaps only 10."
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.