Analysis: IDF breaks 33-year silence on M48 Tamuz missile launcher

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Analysis: IDF breaks 33-year silence on M48 Tamuz missile launcher
Yaakov Lappin, Tel Aviv - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
06 August 2015

A Pere fires a Tamuz 2 missile in an undated photo released by the IDF Source: IDF
Key Points
  • The IDF have finally revealed details of their missile-firing Peres
  • Upgraded versions still remain in service
A senior source from the IDF Artillery Corps discussed the origins, development, and modern usage of the vehicle in early August, saying the concept was developed in the wake of the 1973 war, when Israeli military planners realised the IDF needed additional firepower to stop massive Syrian tank formations pouring across the Golan Heights.

To this end, the IDF contracted Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to convert three battalions (about 40) of its by-then obsolescent M48 tanks so they could fire the company's Tamuz missile. The first conversions were completed in 1982. This process involved the installation of a new turret with a launcher for 12 missiles, as well as an elevating antenna for communicating with the missiles during their flight.


A Pere fires a Tamuz missile in an undated photo released by the IDF. (IDF)

Known as the Pere ('Savage'), the resulting vehicle is comparatively well armoured and has the mobility to keep up with the IDF's armoured divisions. It still has a crew of four: a commander, two gunners, and a driver. Once ordered to fire on certain co-ordinates, the crew launches a Tamuz towards the location, uses the live feed from the camera carried in its nose to identify a target as it approaches and then manually guides the missile towards it.

The manual guidance system restricts each Pere to having only one missile in the air at any given time, although a battalion of vehicles working together could potentially fire volleys at an enemy tank formation.


Three Pere armoured missile launchers. (IDF)

Notably, the Peres were fitted with dummy barrels to mimic a 105 mm main gun and give the impression they are still tanks. Syrian intelligence would consequently not consider the vehicles an immediate threat if it spotted them behind the front line, when in fact the Peres would have been in a position to bombard an advancing armoured formation with long-range anti-tank missiles.

This also meant that the existence of the vehicles and the Tamuz missile had to remain closely guarded secrets. The IDF acknowledged the existence of the Tamuz in 2011, when some details were released of the missile and the Hafiz variant of the M113 armoured personnel carrier used to launch it. However, the Pere continued to remain in the shadows.

Israel's security environment has changed dramatically since the vehicle's conception. By 2005 the threat of conventional war had faded, only to be replaced by conflict against heavily armed, asymmetrical foes such as Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the Pere has continued to play an important role in providing a precision stand-off strike capability that the IDF use to deal with cross-border incidents or engage enemy targets during full-scale conflicts. "The enemy has changed. It is now a small, rapidly disappearing enemy," the Artillery Corps officer said.

The Pere fleet has been upgraded to keep it relevant to contemporary operational requirements. The vehicles are now linked to the IDF's Torch command-and-control system, allowing them to receive intelligence on the co-ordinates of targets from a range of sources.


Pere armoured missile launchers. (IDF)

Unlike the IDF's Merkava Mk 4 tanks, the Peres have not been fitted with Rafael's Trophy active protective system. "As long as there is no need to move in [to hostile territory], it will sit away [from the frontlines], as it did during Operation 'Protective Edge', when there was no need to move into Gaza, as all targets were in range from Israel," said the officer.

The officer added that the vehicles can now be used to fire either Tamuz 2 missiles with a 15 km range or Tamuz 4 missiles with a range of 30 km. Rafael told IHS Jane's that the Tamuz 4 is similar to the Tamuz 5, which is the IDF's name for the Spike NLOS missile that the company has marketed internationally since 2009. The main difference is that the Tamuz 5 has advanced day/night capabilities and can be used with a semi-active laser guidance system.

The officer revealed that anti-tank and anti-aircraft variants of Tamuz 2 and 4 missiles are available. He said they use the same electro-optics, suggesting the main difference is that the former carries an armour-piercing shaped charge, while the latter has a fragmentation warhead that could be used against a variety of ground targets, as well as slow-moving aircraft.


Profile shot of a Pete armoured missile launcher. (IDF)

The Pere's first operational use was not until 2005, when it returned fire on Palestinian attackers in the Gaza Strip. It then participated in the July-August 2006 war with Hizbullah, during which Pere units fired 527 missiles. In the 2008-09 Operation 'Cast Lead' against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Peres fired 26 Tamuz missiles.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2012, Peres deployed to the Golan Heights have carried out numerous strikes on Syrian positions in retaliation for cross-border fire. Most recently, the vehicles fired 433 missiles during the 50-day Operation 'Protective Edge' against Hamas.

While the IDF has not explained why it decided to lift the veil of secrecy around the Pere a year after 'Protective Edge', the move could contribute to deterrence, while also advertising the vehicle's existence to potential export clients.

Yaakov Lappin is a JDW correspondent, based in Tel Aviv
Analysis: IDF breaks 33-year silence on M48 Tamuz missile launcher - IHS Jane's 360
 
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