On August 1st Israel revealed recently built prototype of the new Eitan 8x8 wheeled APC (armored personnel carrier) that would rely on new technologies to keep its weight under 35 tons and provide an affordable, well protected and more reliable APC than heavier and more expensive vehicles. The Eitan will also replace their aging fleet of 6,000 M-113 APCs. The M113 entered service in 1960 and served effectively during the Vietnam War and was the main American APC throughout most of the Cold War. About 80,000 M113s were manufactured. At 13 tons (probably closer to 15 tons with the added armor), the M113 is lighter than the M-2 and Stryker that replaced it. The major shortcoming of the M-113 is the time and expense of keeping it running. That because it runs on tracks, like a bulldozer. That means it has a max speed of only 65 kilometers an hour compared to at least 100 for wheeled armored vehicles. Those tracks wear out quickly and have to be replaced at great expense (over $10,000) every 6,000 kilometers (or less, as traveling on roads wears out the tracks faster). The tracks also limit how much weight you can add. However, the M-113 has proved to be a very flexible platform, lending itself to modifications by many of the dozens of armed forces that still use it. Some countries have added turrets, mounting 25mm cannon. Israel, however, wants more protection for the urban fighting its reserve troops (who rely on the M-113) will likely encounter.
On paper the only other alternative to Eitan is the 60 ton Namer (or Nemer) IFV (infantry fighting vehicle). Earlier in 2016 Israel announced that Namer was also going to be equipped with Trophy APS (Active Protection System). Namer has several things going against it as an M-113 replacement. First, it’s a tracked vehicle and a very heavy one at that. In fact Namer is based on the chassis of older Merkava I and II series tanks. These vehicles are being retired, so they can either be scrapped, or recycled. Thus Namer has the thick armor of the Merkava. With the turret removed, a remotely controlled (from inside the vehicle) heavy machine-gun has been added on top. The Merkava lends itself to this kind of modification, because the engine is mounted in the front and there is already a door in the back of the vehicle. The problem is that there are a limited number of retired Merkavas available and the cost of Eitan is less than the cost of converting an old Merkava tank into a Namer IFV.
The Eitan is depending on new types of lightweight armor and the Trophy APS for defense against RPGs (an unguided rocket propelled grenade fired from a metal tube balanced on the shoulder) and ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missile). New mechanical and electronic technologies enable the Eitan to handle off-road movement as well as a tracked vehicle. That concept has to be field tested which is why Israel is building Eitan prototypes to test mobility, protection and general usefulness.
The new lightweight armor designs and Trophy have already been battle tested. Trophy was first used in combat during 2011 and several times since. It has worked consistently. APS consists of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and deal with the incoming threat. A complete system weighs about a ton. Eitan will have a remotely (from inside the vehicle) controlled 30mm or 40mm autocannon and carry a crew of two and twelve passengers.
While the Israelis liked the speed of wheeled armored vehicles, like the American Stryker (which they considered ordering) they felt they will still be fighting in urban areas, against Palestinian terrorists, in the future. There, the Namer has an edge, because of its thicker armor. Out in the open, the Stryker has an advantage. If the Israelis cannot afford to build enough Namers, they will add armor to their existing supply of M-113 APCs. But based on tests, and the first experience in Gaza, troops prefer the Namer. Thus the goal of Eitan is to provide the speed and reliability of Stryker with the protection of Namer.
Israel expects the field testing of Eitan, and solving problems encountered will take until 2010 and then another year or two for production models to reach the troops. But first Eitan has to prove it can do the job.