Israel’s Elta Systems ZMAG combat vehicle. (Israel Aerospace Industries) (Israel Aerospace Industries)
combat vehicle

“We invested more than NIS 100 million ($30 million) in the land-vehicle plant after identifying the huge market potential for manned and unmanned patrol vehicles,” Boaz Levy, IAI’s CEO said.

By Udi Etsion, CTech

For the first time in decades, the Israeli military is stocking up on locally-made combat vehicles — the ZMAG, produced by Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta Systems. The vehicle is capable of traversing extremely difficult terrain, has a carrying capacity of 2.5 tons, can be equipped with either a petrol or diesel engine, and can be airlifted using Hercules transport planes or Sikorsky CH-53K helicopters.

The vehicles were designed by Ido Cohen, a veteran Israeli all-terrain vehicle racer and fabricator. The ZMAG is based on Cohen’s Zibar vehicles, which have been sold to roughly 100 clients around the world. IAI purchased the rights to the ZMAG design as well as to other military versions of the Zibar, which will be manufactured in the defense contractor’s plant in southern Israel.

According to the agreement, the IDF will procure nine test vehicles with various operational designs, with an option to purchase 21 operational vehicles, a number that is expected to rise in the future. The vehicles will service special combat units. The value of the fully realized contract stands at roughly $15 million ($4.6 million). The contract is set to initiate procurement and includes a commitment to aid the IAI in selling the vehicles to foreign militaries too.

Meanwhile, a smaller version of the ZMAG is participating in an IDF tender for special-unit ATVs, competing against the Mercedes G-class and the Toyota Landcruiser 70 series, one of which will be replacing the military’s aging fleet of Land Rover Defender-based patrol vehicle, which is no longer being made.

The IAI’s new land vehicle plant is located in the southern city of Beersheva, replacing an existing facility that manufactured navy vessels. The factory has been repurposed to produce both manned and unmanned all-terrain vehicles and, alongside the ZMAG, will continue to manufacture the IAI’s veteran RAM vehicles, hundreds of which have been sold to foreign militaries since the 1970s. The facility employs 300 people.

“We invested more than NIS 100 million ($30 million) in the land-vehicle plant after identifying the huge market potential for manned and unmanned patrol vehicles,” Boaz Levy, IAI’s CEO said. “The battlefield of the future demands more smart vehicles equipped with radar and location capabilities that Elta can provide. Militaries all over the world are suffering from a lack of personnel and there is a desire to reduce risks to soldiers, which is why we will see more and more combat assignments passed on to autonomous vehicles. A robot doesn’t require sleep or food and doesn’t leave behind a bereaved family if it is harmed in battle.”

The IAI is already preparing armored versions of the ZMAG and plans for the Beersheva plant to reach a manufacturing capacity of several hundred vehicles a year. However, due to restrictions in the use of US military aid funding, Elta may manufacture the vehicles meant for use by the IDF and the US military in a US manufacturing plant.

“Elta develops and produces a wide range of land-based solutions in the fields of intelligence gathering, robotics and automation, remote sensing, and communications,” said IAI VP and Elta CEO Yoav Turgeman. “Combining these capabilities with the Z-family of vehicles offers significant value for land units performing defensive, offensive, and intelligence gathering [operations] for homeland protection.”