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The IAI Carmel Is A Unique Combat Vehicle

November 1, 2022
Via IAI.

Since 2019 three companies have been involved in the development of Israel’s “Carmel.” In 2021 the program was taken over by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) after the defense ministry selected it as the prime contractor. Despite its limited exposure to land systems IAI’s catalog of air defense missiles and drones are rated the best in the world. The Carmel, as conceptualized in different media, subscribes to the ethos of maximal characteristics in firepower, protection, and mobility. Other countries have attempted the same but with mixed results. The introduction of the Carmel is still years away and details about its cutting-edge subsystems, what they are and what they do, are likely to change.

Back in 2019 it was Elbit Systems (with inputs from IAI and Rafael) that led the Carmel program and it even promoted its proof-of-concept by showing an M113 APC equipped with sensors and a new turret. Instead of a crew and infantry dismounts it only carried two operators immersed in wide panel touchscreens and running the vehicle with off-the-shelf game controllers. The experiment was supposed to illustrate how a Carmel is best suited for the urban warfare Israeli troops often contend with. However, by 2021 it was IAI who took over when the defense ministry selected it as the prime contractor on October 10. At the time IAI described the Carmel as a “solution… based on automatic and autonomous systems that complement the two-man team, and operate the central subsystems – the vehicles’ mission planning and management, situational awareness, driving and lethality.”

This means the Carmel is a radical departure from previous combat vehicle programs such as the Namer heavy APC and the Eitan wheeled APC. Once it does enter production in the coming years it exists in its own niche. The Carmel is a “light” tracked combat vehicle equipped with advanced sensors and subsystems but carrying the firepower often associated with an IFV, e.g. a large caliber main gun paired with tandem missile launchers. Other countries have attempted the same in the previous decade but with mixed results. There’s some overlap between the Carmel and separate programs that wanted to achieve the same by combining autonomous vehicles, battlefield situational awareness, and integration with other units.

While the Carmel is operated by two who can enter and exit the vehicle from a rear hatch a similar concept was envisioned by Turkiye’s armored vehicle manufacturer FNSS. In 2021 the Shadow Rider unmanned ground vehicle integrated many of the Carmel’s attributes except for the presence of crew inside the vehicle although a person-in-the-loop was seen as essential for controlling it. Even the wording used by FNSS to describe the Shadow Rider mirrors IAI’s own concepts: “…a system solution that will reduce the soldier’s burden on the battlefield and become a force multiplier for the user in full spectrum missions thanks to its artificial intelligence supported autonomy kit, decision support systems, sensor suite, positional and situational awareness systems.”

As manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of unmanned combat vehicles a noticeable overlap is now emerging in how “legacy” vehicles should perform alongside their robot peers. Russia’s own efforts at the same are well documented but with marginal results. The Uran-9 is the most heavily armed robot of its kind and belongs to a mature family. Yet this technological breakthrough means little in the problematic organization of Russia’s own army that’s flailing in Ukraine. It’s a painful contrast when considering the Russian military-industrial sector’s impressive track record in designing and producing autonomous ground combat vehicles.

What contemporary advances in armored fighting vehicles and battle robots reveal is the hype and the practical use of these systems are worlds apart. There’s no doubt a Chinese state-owned manufacturer can quickly design and produce a vehicle similar to the Israeli Carmel but, unlike the IDF, the PLA have no requirement for one. Although it seems IAI has a lot of work cut out of it when other manufacturers have gone farther along in production the Carmel, should it finally enter service, marks a quantitative leap ahead of regional peers that are outdated and vulnerable. There are simply no combat vehicles or IFVs and other types of infantry transports among Middle Eastern armies that compare.

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