"The Tanks of the IDF - the best in the world"

Ashot Ashkelon Industries manufactures and maintains the transmission, tracks, suspension springs and wheels for the Merkava tank used by IDF. "The know-how we possess is an operational advantage," says Yaron Gilboa, Ashot's VP Marketing. Exclusive Interview

From the Ashot Ashkelon plant

"We are unique in the manufacture of sprocket wheels," says Yaron Gilboa, VP Marketing at Ashot Ashkelon Industries, a company owned by IMI and the public. "At Ashot we have two primary activities – one for the military market, which involves mainly systems for tanks, and the other for the civilian market – mainly the aviation industry. Flap deploying systems, shafts for jet engines and other systems. Another activity we have involves systems for trucks and tractors."

Ashot Ashkelon Industries is the only industrial plant in Israel that manufactures and maintains transmission systems for the Merkava tanks and the Namer APCs, which are based on the Merkava tank. Ashot also develops the chassis and transmission for the future APC of IDF, designated Eitan, which is currently under development at MANTAK (the Tank Administration). The Eitan will be a wheeled rather than a tracked APC, to be used by the IDF Ground Arm. Additionally, Ashot manufactures an extensive range of parts for aircraft engines and aviation systems (OEM) for the world's leading engine manufacturers.

In 2011, Ashot Ashkelon Industries acquired the Reliance Gear Company of the USA, which became the US subsidiary of the Israeli company. One of the intended objectives is to use the US plant for the purpose of qualifying for US Foreign Military Financing (FMF). "We established the plant in the USA so that we do not have to transfer know-how to third-party US companies," explains Gilboa, "But in the future, we will use it for FMF funded projects as well.

"In the military field, we manufacture and develop transmissions, terminal drive elements, and track, suspension and wheel systems for tanks and APCs. We also manufacture the tungsten armor-piercing penetrators for IMI. The biggest client of our military activity is the Israel Ministry of Defense, but we also have clients overseas for these activities.

Driving a Tank like a Standard Vehicle

"We are also working on the manufacture of the Namer APC. The transmission of the Namer APC should support a 1,200hp engine while the transmission of the Merkava tank should support a 1,500hp engine. The difference between the two engines is due to the difference in weight – the Namer APC does not have a turret. Other developments by the Ashot plant include a proprietary planetary power shifting system for the Merkava tank and the restraining system for the Merkava tanks and Namer APCs. The US-made Abrahams tank uses torsion bars for this purpose. In the IDF they decided to use springs so as to achieve a direct hit with the first round fired. The advantage of the spring is that it offers more flexibility and keeps the tank stable so that the cannon does not swerve."

The transmission assembly line at Ashot includes a dedicated inspection chamber where the finished transmission undergoes a simulation, just like in a tank or APC. In the final inspection stage, the transmission operates continuously for about 45 hours, during which time all of its elements are inspected to ensure that it will operate smoothly when fitted to the tank. The transmissions manufactured by Ashot have five forward speeds and enable the user to drive the tank in the same way as driving a standard vehicle.

Ashot's civilian activity includes the manufacture of assemblies for aircraft, trucks and tractors. Their aviation-related activity includes the manufacture of assemblies for engines, flap deployment, electromechanical systems, tungsten weights, hydraulic systems and even a hybrid electrical engine for light aircraft.

A dedicated manufacturing chamber is erected at the plant for each assembly, and the manufacturing floor is divided into independent areas. "Ashot has recently acquired a unique machine that produces shafts for aircraft engines, which cost two million dollars," explains Gilboa. "The shafts are made for the world's most popular aircraft models. We operate in the 'Build-to-Print' or in the 'Build-to-Spec' method. Particularly in the context of our military activity, the client provides specifications and we design the parts according to those specs. This involves the development of ideas, including improvements for tanks.

"In the sprocket wheel category, we design, manufacture and test the products. This is a unique activity nation-wide. With sprocket wheels, the more continuous your contact area, the higher the torque you can transmit – so the transmission may be kept smaller. Another aspect involves the thermal treatment – hardening/tempering. In a sprocket wheel, the outside has to be hard but the inside has to be soft, as you need flexibility. If it is not flexible – it will break. We have at our plant more than 300 manufacturing workstations, including machining and metal treatment stations. We are also looking into the field of 3D printing. In the aviation industry, this activity is still in its infancy – mainly with regard to the manufacturing of metal parts.

"The responsibility we have for the platforms of IDF compels us to maintain independent manufacturing capabilities for all of the processes. Admittedly, some of the work is outsourced in order to support local industries, but we constantly invest in new equipment, including machinery, in order to maintain our manufacturing competence so that we may support our armored arsenal under any circumstances. Our expertise with regard to sprocket wheels, suspension springs, wheels and transmissions has been accumulated over many years of experience. This know-how makes the tanks and APCs of IDF the world's best."