The Eitan is a response to deadly failures in Gaza
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
On the morning of July 19, 2014, an M-113 armored vehicle belonging to the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade crept into one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip — the scene of one of the most brutal battles in the 2014 war with Hamas.
But the lightly-armored vehicle, which dates to before the Vietnam War, was not meant for this kind of conflict. During the fighting, an anti-tank mine exploded underneath the M-113, killing seven soldiers. Hamas gunmen then ambushed IDF troops coming to the rescue, forcing them to retreat.
The Israeli army still fields thousands of M-113s — a tracked troop taxi originating in the United States. But they’re long past being suitable in conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah, which deploy inventive tactics combining anti-tank traps, rockets and missiles.
Israeli responded to the deaths of those soldiers with a new armored vehicle called the Eitan, revealed at the beginning of August. The Israeli defense ministry intends to replace much of its M-113 fleet with the Eitan, an eight-wheeled multi-purpose fighting vehicle with considerably heavier armor.
We don’t know very much about the Eitan. Being a wheeled vehicle, the Eitan is clearly designed to speed back and forth along Israeli’s road network if the country were to fight a two-front conflict. Israel, owing to its tightly-knit society and small population, is particularly sensitive to losses and protracted wars.
We know that vehicle was designed specifically because of “lessons learned from Operation Protective Edge,” the Israeli ministry of defense said in a statement, referring to the Gaza war.
There’s also grainy video of the new vehicle.
The Eitan’s estimated weight is around 35 tons, which is on the heavier side for an armored personnel carrier, or APC, but this number may be only for the prototype seen on display above — which lacks additional armor to be bolted on later.
It has a monstrous engine capable of producing 750 horsepower, which is similar to the German GTK Boxer in terms of the power-to-weight ratio. The Boxer is one of the more heavily-armored vehicles in its class in the world.
So if the Eitan is similar (and they look similar), then the Israelis have produced a tough machine. And sure enough, the Israelis plan to add reactive armor and an unmanned cannon — either 30 or 40 millimeters in size — which could increase the weight by several more tons.
Another feature is an Israeli-made Trophy active-protection system, which shoots out a spread of small projectiles to destroy incoming missiles.
Israel has another modern APC known as the Namer, which is a tracked vehicle based on the Merkava tank chassis. This vehicle weighs a massive 60 tons. But because the Namer has a tank chassis, it is slow and expensive (around $3 million each) with high maintenance requirements.
It’s because of cost that Israel has been slow to buy Namers, and they will never be plentiful enough to replace all of the vulnerable M-113s. The Eitan will reportedly cost half as much as the Namer.
“This does not replace the Namer,” Brig. Gen. Baruch Matzliah told the Jerusalem Post. “It travels quickly on roads between sectors. It will work together with the Namer, allowing us to engage faster.”
There are a few other details about the Eitan. It can reportedly carry up to nine passengers in addition to three crew members, which is similar to other APCs like the Boxer, the Swiss Piranha 5 and the U.S. Stryker.
It appears to have a double-V hull to make it more survivable from mines and improvised explosives — a terribly common killer in modern battlefields.
It’s unclear if Israel will sacrifice passenger space to fit a cannon. Space in tightly-packed armored vehicles are always at a premium. (And we don’t know what they look like on the inside.) But the Eitan on display is just a demonstrator, and the Israeli army won’t have them in service for at least another five years.
Meanwhile, it’s just about certain that Hamas and Hezbollah are investing in more anti-tank rockets and missiles. During the 2006 war with Hezbollah, the Shia militant group destroyed dozens of Israeli Merkava battle tanks — many of them knocked out with missiles fired from long range.
Hamas has a more difficult time getting tank-killing weapons owing to the Gaza Strip’s isolation, but West Point’s counter-terrorism journal CTC Sentinel predicted the group “will likely increase the number of anti-tank units and weapons it can deploy in response to the Israeli Trophy active protection system and Israel’s likely acquisition of additional heavily armored tanks and APCs.”
There’s a dynamic at work here. If you build a bigger vehicle, your foes will acquire a bigger weapon to attack it.