It All Started in the Basement

The technological acheivement's of Israel's small arms industry

It All Started in the Basement

The IMI Light Weapons Factory, 1995

When tracing Israel’s small arms industry from the 1930s to the present, it is interesting to analyze the trajectory of technological achievements.

All weapon platforms must prove their operational capability, in addition to being technologically feasible. From the 1930s to Israel’s establishment in 1948, the technological development of small arms in the country was extremely limited. When prototypes were produced, such as the Carmi machine gun, the leadership of the Yishuv opposed the initiative and prevented the weapons from being manufactured. Nevertheless, in the same period, the military industry operated underground and succeeded in copying and producing large numbers of British Sten submachine guns. However, development of original small arms was another story, due to the lack of experience and technical knowledge necessary to produce them.

With the state’s establishment, the military industry began recruiting professionals and armourers who had cut their teeth during World War II. Even before 1948, industrial leaders planned to develop and produce small arms independently for the state-in-the-making. Examples include the IMI Pistol, an American revolver designed to fire semi-automatic pistol bullets, and the Dror, a remake of the American Johnson light machine gun designed to fire British or German machine gun bullets.

During Israel’s early years, the technological progress of the IDF Ordnance Corps – the branch that decided which weapons the army would use – outstripped that of Israel Military Industries (IMI). The driving force behind the branch’s technology was Colonel Emmanuel (Mannes) Prat, a former officer in the British Army, who recruited a cadre of weapons experts that served in the British Armed Forces. The Ordnance Corps rejected the IMI pistol and the Dror machine gun because they failed the parts replacement test (the interchangeability of parts in weapons of the same model).

The military industry realized that the production of small arms for the army required a special technological layout for solving the problem of parts replacement. The result was the Uzi (designed by Uziel Gal) – the first weapon that IMI supplied in large quantities to the IDF. In 1952, the Uzi proved to be the turning point in the history of small arms development and production in Israel.

Over the years, personal considerations also played a part in the choice of weapons for the IDF. An outstanding example is the struggle between the Gal (developed by Uziel Gal) and Balashnikov assault rifles, later known as the Galil (developed by Israel “Balashnikov” Galili). Although the human engineering of the Gal was better suited for IDF operations than that of the Galil, the latter (an adaptation of the Russian Kalashnikov) was chosen as the standard assault rifle for the IDF.

Unfortunately, IMI’s small arms division shut down a decade ago. Nevertheless, the production of small arms in Israel continues, and has even increased in recent years as a result of the entry of private companies such as IWI, Silver Shadow, and Bul into the field.

You might be interested also