In recent days, the IDF land forces technology brigade has begun installing the Dragon advanced firing system on Achzarit armored personnel carriers (APCs) used by some infantry forces, and on Puma armored engineering vehicles used by engineering forces.
Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT) land-based section developed the system according to needs defined by IDF land forces personnel, based on the lessons learned in recent conflicts, including Operation Protective Edge.
One of the Dragon's key features is its ability to quickly spot targets in both the day and the night, and under any weather conditions, using cameras installed on the APCs. Once the targets have been spotted, under various battle conditions, the system can deliver a short, accurate, and deadly burst of fire at an effective range of 1,500 meters, while the APC crew remains sheltered inside it, and the soldiers are not exposed on the battlefield.
In addition to the cameras providing high-resolution pictures day and night, the system also includes a small radar set enabling it to identify suspects in various theaters of activity, in open areas, and in urban areas. When the suspicious images are spotted, the Dragon makes it possible to lock in on them, and to direct accurate fire against them, while being operated through a computer located inside the APC.
"It facilitates better performance from an accuracy standpoint," Elbit VP Land and C41 division Boaz Cohen told "Globes." "We brought decades of experience in combat systems for armored vehicles and tanks to the development of the Dragon. In addition, it also enables the APC team to operate it without endangering itself - the system is interfaced with other systems on the APC, and with respect to the other systems, it achieves the required effect with fewer rounds, due to its great accuracy."
According to Col. Tal Aharon, head of the maneuvering systems department in the IDF land forces technology division, the Dragon is based on 0.5-mm ammunition, and "can potentially be adapted to other types of ammunition." It is interfaced with another system by Elbit Systems that is constantly updated and has been used by IDF forces for over a decade - the IDF Ground Forces Digitalization program.
At this stage, the Dragon is being installed only on Achzarit APCs and Puma armored engineering vehicles, but according to Col Aharon, when enough money is allocated, it can also be installed on other armored vehicles used by the IDF land forces. According to plans by the IDF land forces, the process of installing the new firing system on these vehicles is projected to take two years, and Aharon says that it will be done at a rapid pace "and will significantly upgrade the maneuvering abilities of the Achzarit and the Puma."
The new system is being installed on IDF APCs together with the Samson Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS also known at the Katlanit), an older system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. that operates on the same principle - delivering a deadly volley of fire without the forces exposing themselves outside the vehicle. "In absolute terms, the Dragon is at the absolute top of the weapons currently available to the IDF. In this case, the army set very high requirements for the system's accuracy, and did not relent before it got exactly what it wanted," Cohen explained.
IDF land forces officers say that one of the main considerations guiding them in the decision-making process for the development and procurement of the Dragon was economic: more systems can be procured for less money, while improving accuracy, which will also save ammunition. As part of tests of various systems, the Dragon proved its capability for hitting targets with a short burst of 3-4 rounds. "This capability enables the forces in the field to significantly shorten the time for closing the circle of fire, without having to move about too much," Aharon said.
Testing a new APC
The Dragon firing system is being put into operation simultaneously with other measures for strengthening the IDF land deployment, while adapting its capabilities to the current battle theaters. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense Tank Administration has begun a series of tests in recent months of a new APC for the IDF infantry, which will gradually replace the outmoded M-113.
The new APC, called Eitan, will be the first in the IDF based on eight wheels instead of tank tread. Its maximum speed on the road is 90 kilometers per hour, its motor has a 750 horsepower capacity, it can carry 12 soldiers, and it is protected with passive armor systems and is designed to bear an active protection system: either Rafael's Trophy system or Israel Military Industries Ltd.'s (IMI) Iron Fist.
Due to the vulnerability of its wheels in various battle scenarios, an automatic mechanism will be installed on the Eitan for inflating the tires in case they are hit by light weapons fire.
The price of Eitan is significantly lower than that of the Namer, the APC based on the Merkava tank frame, which was also developed by the Tank Administration. The Eitan's price was not disclosed, but defense sources said when its development was revealed that it was substantially less than that of other APCs, so the Ministry of Defense can procure many of them in the coming years, enabling it to reduce the number of outmoded and vulnerable APC, including the M-113, used by the IDF in battles in the Shuja'iyya neighborhood in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
Extensive use by the IDF of these outmoded APCs, which are not protected against advanced anti-tank missiles, previously resulted in extensive criticism of the Ministry of Defense. An anti-tank missile fired against such an APC in the Shuja'iyya battles caused the death of seven Golani Brigade soldiers.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 4, 2016
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