Armor: Replacing M113 Is Not Easy

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January 2, 2017: Two nations (Israel and the United States) are actively seeking to design an effective (and salable) replacement for the thousands of M113 APCs (armored personnel carriers) each uses. Both nations still heavily use the M113s. Actually, about 10,000 M113s are still in use and the U.S. and Israel account for about half of those. Both countries want an effective and affordable replacement. So far the U.S. appears to have settled on support version of the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) while Israel is leaning towards a wheeled armored vehicles (the U.S. considered by rejected). In any event the M113 is a hard act to follow.

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 added armor and other accessories), the M113 is lighter than the M2 and Stryker that replaced it in the combat role. The major shortcoming of the M113 is the time and expense of keeping elderly ones running. That’s 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 a set) 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 M113) will likely encounter.

The American replacement proposed is the AMPV (Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle), which is based on the M2 Bradley. This is a 27 ton armored vehicle that proved to be an excellent, combat proven vehicle worth keeping around for a while. Over 4,000 M-2s were built, and about 2,300 similar M-3s (a recon version with more gear and fewer passengers). The M2 has a turret armed with 25mm autocannon and two TOW missiles. The AMPV does not have the turret but has improved armor protection, a better engine and mobility than the M2/3. With all this it costs about the same as the M2. The U.S. Army plans to purchase 2,900 AMPVs at a cost of $3.7 million each.

The Israeli solution was revealed August 2016 when the prototype of the new Eitan 8x8 wheeled APC was presented. Eitan relies on new technologies to keep its weight under 35 tons and eliminate the cost (to build and maintain) of tracked vehicle technology. Eitan also provides an affordable, well protected and more reliable APC than heavier and more expensive proposals. The Eitan will mainly replace Israeli M113s. This was important because until now the only likely Israeli M113 replacement was the 60 ton Namer (or Nemer) IFV (infantry fighting vehicle). Like the Namer, Eitan will be equipped with Trophy APS (Active Protection System).

Namer was never a serious contender to replace all M113s. 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. That’s one reason why the 8x8 Eitan weighs so much (up to 35 tons) to provide protection for dozen troops it is designed to carry. Even if Eitan is not an IFV it will be carrying supplies and personnel into combat zones and needs to be able to take a hit and keep moving

Israel expects the field testing of Eitan, and solving problems encountered will take until 2020 and then another year or two for production models to reach the troops. But first Eitan has to prove it can do the job at a lower cost (at least 20 percent lower) than the AMPV. Both vehicles are on schedule to enter service by the mid-2020s. In addition to replacing all the American and Israeli M113s there is a large export market for a good M113 replacement.

 


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