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Israel’s Heavy Armored Personnel Carriers

Heavy metal

Unlike some armies, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) does not need to airlift equipment all over the globe. Israel’s wars come right to the doorstep. So the IDF has been able to develop super-heavy fighting vehicles converted from obsolete tanks, providing unprecedented armor protection to foot soldiers.

Israel’s wars come right to the doorstep.

Dismounted infantry has trouble keeping up with tanks, and is vulnerable to shell fragments and machine guns. One solution was the armored personnel carrier (APC), a “battle taxi” armed with rooftop machine guns. The first APCs were “half-tracks,” basically trucks with rear axles replaced by caterpillar tracks. Their thin armor and lack of overhead protection led American GIs to call them “Purple Heart boxes.”

IDF's Zelda

The IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps training aboard M113 “Zeldas.” The shortcomings of the M113 were one spur to the development of heavy armored personnel carriers. Israel Defense Forces photo

Israel acquired 3,500 surplus half-tracks, using them in the 1956 and 1967 wars after most armies had upgraded to fully-enclosed boxes such as the M113. Made of welded aluminum, the M113 could “swim” in water, propelled by its tracks. Aluminum armor kept out bullets and shell fragments, but was easily penetrated by rocket-propelled grenades (RPG) and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM). The U.S. sent Israel over 6,000 M113s. They were nicknamed “Zelda,” Hebrew slang for an American Jewish girl. In the 1973 war, they suffered painful losses.

They were nicknamed “Zelda,” Hebrew slang for an American Jewish girl. In the 1973 war, they suffered painful losses.

Achzarit

In the 1967 and 1973 wars, Israel captured hundreds of Soviet-built T-55 tanks, many abandoned intact by Arab crews. Refitted with new guns, engines and fire control, they equipped reserve brigades. But they had serious design flaws, particularly with respect to the cramped turret (Russian tank crews were selected from the shortest 5 percent of draftees).

Achzarit

The first of the IDF’s heavy armored personnel carriers, Achzarits were built from the captured hulls of Soviet-made T-54/55 tanks. Photo by gkirok

Most armies would have discarded these vehicles as scrap metal, but the thrifty IDF found a different solution.

Beginning in 1987, some 276 T-55s were rebuilt by removing the turret and constructing a compartment for 10 troops.

Beginning in 1987, some 276 T-55s were rebuilt by removing the turret and constructing a compartment for 10 troops. The bulky Russian diesel engine was replaced by a compact power pack, leaving space for a passageway to a rear exit door. The exterior was covered with reactive armor that defeats RPGs and early ATGMs. Named Achzarit (“Cruel One”) the 48.5 ton vehicle carries four roof-mounted 7.62 mm machine guns.

 

Nagmash’ot, Nagmachon, Nakpadon and Puma

Nagmachon

Nagmachon heavy APC at the LIC 2004 exhibition. Derived from the British Centurion tank, this example has the distinctive “doghouse” replacing the turret. Photo by Fresh Military & Security Forum, Israel via MathKnight

Similar rebuilds gave new life to hundreds of obsolete IDF Centurion tanks. This late 1940s British tank, re-gunned, re-engined, and up-armored in IDF service, was nicknamed Sh’ot, meaning “whip.” The Sh’ot earned a place in Israeli armored corps history during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when fewer than 100 Centurion tanks of the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade repulsed a Syrian attack, destroying almost 500 Syrian tanks and armored vehicles in the Valley of Tears on the Golan Heights.

The Sh’ot earned a place in Israeli armored corps history during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when fewer than 100 Centurion tanks of the Israeli 7th Armored Brigade repulsed a Syrian attack, destroying almost 500 Syrian tanks and armored vehicles in the Valley of Tears on the Golan Heights.

By the 1980s, as Centurions were replaced by new Israeli-designed Merkava tanks, they were rebuilt as infantry carriers. Weight saved by removing the turret was invested in belly armor to meet the growing mine and IED threat. Weighing 57.3 tons, with a crew of 12 (driver, commander and 10 passengers) and powered by an American 750 hp AVDS-1790-2AC diesel engine, Nagmash’ot (1983) was followed in quick succession by Nagmachon (mid-1980s) and Nakpadon (1990s) with advanced reactive armor and massive side-skirts. Some Nagmachons are fitted with a distinctive non-rotating “doghouse” studded with vision blocks for a forward observer.

Nakpadon

Nakpadon heavy APC at the LIC 2004 show. The Nakpadon is considered the most heavily armored of Israel’s Centurion-based heavy APCs. Photo by Fresh Military & Security Forum, Israel, via MathKnight

Puma, not to be confused with a new German infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) of the same name, is a combat engineer vehicle that is also built on the Centurion chassis. It entered service around 1991.

Early models retained the Centurion’s Horstmann coil-spring suspension and 750 hp diesel. Later models have the improved suspension and 900 hp power pack of the Merkava, providing a road speed of 28 mph (45 kph).

The survivability of the super-heavy APC was proven in the 2006 Lebanon war, where the IDF faced advanced Russian anti-tank missiles.

The crew includes commander, driver, gunner, and five sappers who can dismount to plant explosives or clear obstacles.

The gunner’s “Overhead Weapon Station” carries a remote-controlled 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine gun.  Three additional machine guns can be fitted at the roof hatches. A 60 mm mortar can be fired from inside the troop compartment.

Puma APC

Puma APC during training of the 601st Battalion of the Israel Engineering Corps The Puma armored engineering vehicle/APC is also built on the Centurion chassis. Photo by Udodelig

Puma can be fitted with mine plows and rollers, as well as the Rafael “Carpet” system, a pack of 20 short-ranged rockets with fuel-air explosive warheads that can blow a 100-meter gap into a minefield in less than a minute.

The survivability of the super-heavy APC was proven in the 2006 Lebanon war, where the IDF faced advanced Russian anti-tank missiles. Fourteen Achzarits and Pumas were hit, but only seven troops were killed.

 

Namer

Weighing 66 tons, this big cat is the most heavily armored APC ever built.

Namer means “tiger” or “leopard” in Hebrew. Weighing 66 tons, this big cat is the most heavily armored APC ever built. About 130 are currently in service.  Early versions were converted surplus Merkava Mk. I tanks, but new production vehicles are assembled by General Dynamics in Lima, Ohio, and then shipped to Israel for installation of weapons and the secret composite and reactive armor.

Namer carries a crew of 11: commander, driver, gunner and eight troops. The gunner’s remote-controlled weapon station can be fitted with a 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm machine gun, or 40 mm grenade launcher. Four external video cameras provide 360-degree vision.

Namer

Soldiers from A Company, 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, maneuver around an Israeli Namer during the Maneuver Battle Lab’s Ground Combat Vehicle assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas. Army leaders used the session to learn about eventual requirements for a new Infantry fighting vehicle. The Namer was originally rebuilt from early Merkava tank chassis, but today they are being constructed by General Dynamics Land Systems in the United States. U.S. Department of Defense photo by 1st Lt. Tyler N. Ginter

Future versions will carry a 30 mm automatic cannon and the Rafael Trophy active protection system. Namer is under evaluation for the U.S. Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle program.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-41282">
    Jonathan Boyko

    Just a small correction: While I would *love* for PUMA to have a rear door – would make my service just a tiny bit easier – it, unfortunately, does not have one. All the troops mount and dismount the vehicle via topside hatches.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-41324">

    You’re right of course Jonathan. It’s the Merkava-derived Namer that has the rear door. We’ve corrected the error and appreciate you catching the mistake.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-41619">
    Jonathan Boyko

    It’s a pleasure, gentlemen.