Israel is again upgrading its D9 combat bulldozers. Aside from some minor mechanical improvements, the big change is the remote-control system used on some D9s. First developed and used in 2006, the remote control D9 has become more capable as Israeli remote control and autonomous vehicle technology improves. Israel is a leader in this field and new developments tend to spread to all sort of remote-controlled vehicles. The new tech provides the remote operator with more reliable and precise control over the unmanned D9 and better images of what could be seen from that D9.
The D9 had already gone through several major upgrades, especially when it came to better protection for the two-man crew and the most vulnerable components. An early addition was a “cage” or steel bars around the operator cab to defeat RPG warheads. The cab was already armored, including bullet and blast proof glass. The crew seats were upgraded to include protection from the blast force pressure of bombs adjacent to or under the vehicle. The D9 is built to survive such explosions but the crew need additional protection as well. This comes in the form of seats designed to absorb most of the blast vibration, which would otherwise put the crew at risk for spinal and shock injuries.
For decades before the development of a combat bulldozer Israel, like most nations, turned older tanks into “combat engineer vehicles” by replacing the turret with an armored box for the operator, adding a bulldozer blade and other items. But if you just want to shove stuff around more effectively while under fire, you are better served by armoring a large commercial bulldozer. That is what Israel has been doing since the 1960s.
By 2009 Israel realized armor wasn’t enough and began converting all its D9 armored combat bulldozers to operate by remote control. For the United States the 62-ton D9 armored (via an Israeli armor kit) bulldozer has been an important tool for urban warfare after 2001 and is offered for export to allies. The armor kit adds fifteen tons to the weight of the commercial D9 and comes with suggestions for useful or necessary adjustments to mechanical and engine aspects of the D9.
Although the Israelis pioneered the use of special explosives to blast entry holes through walls, so troops can quickly get to their objectives, the D9 proved an even more effective solution. The D9 lets you bash through walls, and buildings, much faster. The D9 can even shake the enemy out of some buildings. With those capabilities the D9 proved very effective in urban combat. The Israelis often mounted a machine-gun on their D9s to provide protection from the increasing number of attacks on these vehicles. The D9s are pretty sturdy, often surviving large roadside bombs and several RPG hits. But the D9s are not invulnerable and have increasingly become a target for enemy attack. Despite the armor kit and machine-gun, D9 drivers sometimes get killed or wounded, and the vehicles put out of action. There was a need for a remote-control option and Israel was a pioneer in developing the tech that can turn any vehicle into an effective remotely controlled one.
The remote- control version of the D9, called "Black Thunder", was developed in 2006 as a secret program that was only revealed when so many troops were now aware of it. Even the Palestinians were talking about it, having been confronted with "Black Thunder" D9s during the 2009 war in Gaza.
"Black Thunder" D9s retain the armor kit but, instead of an operator, the cab contains the electronics and radio gear needed to run the dozer remotely. Several cameras and other sensors are mounted on the outside. An operator, sitting in a nearby armored vehicle or truck, views several flat screen displays, and operates the controls. Any soldiers with lots of video game experience can quickly master the remote operation of a D9.
In early 2003, the U.S. bought nine 62-ton D9 armored Caterpillar bulldozers into Kuwait for the Iraq campaign. The D9s, and their Israeli made armor kit, were purchased because of Israeli success with the dozer in urban warfare against Palestinian terrorists. America had used the D9 during the 1960s in Vietnam, but after that only used the smaller (35 ton, with armor kit) D7. The D9 was not needed for urban fighting in Iraq during 2003, but was found very useful, much more so than the smaller D7, for combat engineering tasks. The D9 quickly cleared highways of debris and built temporary roads for combat vehicles. D9s was eventually used in Iraq for combat operations in places like Fallujah. The U.S. has also developed remote control systems for several types of armored vehicles.
Russians noted the success of the Israeli D9 and in 2015 one Russian firm offered for export a new armored bulldozer design. This was the 21-ton B10 commercial bulldozer with armor added and a few other changes. This results in a 25-ton vehicle that is similar to the Cold War era BAT-2, a larger, 40-ton armored bulldozer. The militarized B10 is apparently more cost-effective than the BAT-2, which was an improved version of the World War II era BAT-M. Russia offered their B10 at a cheaper price than competing Western models as well as many additional options. Sales were not brisk because the armored B10 was not as effective as the D9. This had already been discovered when the lighter (35 ton) armored D7 was used in place of the heavier and more expensive D9. The B10 was an improvement over armored combat engineering vehicles but not enough to make the kind of difference the D9 provided.