The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Combat Engineering Corps employs the formidable Caterpillar D9 bulldozers for combat engineering and counter-terrorism operations. With the ability to neutralize improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other threats, the IDF showcases the remarkable power of these armored machines in a newly released video. Affectionately nicknamed “Doobi” (meaning teddy bear), the IDF Caterpillar D9 is a specially modified armored bulldozer extensively utilized by the Israel Defense Forces. Collaborative efforts between the IDF, Israeli Military Industries, and Israel Aerospace Industries have substantially enhanced the bulldozer’s survivability in hostile environments, enabling it to withstand heavy attacks and making it ideally suited for military combat engineering purposes. The IDF relies on the D9 for a wide range of combat engineering tasks, including earthworks, digging moats, erecting sand barriers, constructing fortifications, rescuing immobilized or damaged armored fighting vehicles , clearing landmines, neutralizing IEDs and explosives, handling booby traps, overcoming terrain obstacles, and creating passage routes for armored fighting vehicles and infantry. Additionally, these bulldozers excel in demolition operations, even while facing enemy fire.
The latest iteration of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer in IDF service is the D9R, boasting a robust 405–410 horsepower (302–306 kW) diesel engine and an impressive drawbar pull of 71.6 metric tons (about 702 kN). However, older generations such as the D9L and D9N remain in active service, primarily within the reserve forces. Operated by a crew of two, consisting of an operator and a commander, these bulldozers are handled by the Combat Engineering Corps’ Tzama units specializing in mechanical engineering equipment. The IDF’s primary modification to the Caterpillar D9 involves the installation of an indigenous armor kit that protects both the mechanical systems and the operator’s cabin. The operator and commander are shielded within an armored cabin, often referred to as “the cockpit,” featuring bulletproof glass windows that offer protection against bombs, machine guns, and sniper fire.
Additionally, the IDF has developed and integrated a slat armor add-on to deflect rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) rounds. The added armor package increases the D9’s weight by approximately 15 additional tonnes (17 short tons) compared to its original production-line weight. The modified D9 bulldozers can be equipped with various features, including crew-operated machine guns, smoke projectors, or grenade launchers. The combination of Israeli armor and the D9’s robust construction renders it impervious to landmines, IEDs, and substantial explosive charges.
During the early 2000s, the IDF introduced the advanced D9R, equipped with cutting-edge armor designed by the IDF’s Masha in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries and Zoko Shiloovim/ITE, the Caterpillar Inc. importers in Israel. In response to the escalating threat of shaped charge anti-tank rockets and anti-tank missiles, the IDF introduced a highly effective slat armor in 2005, which was subsequently installed on a large number of IDF D9R dozers in 2006. The implementation of slat armor proved to be life-saving, earning recognition through the IDF’s Ground Command award for its developers and installers. In addition to the standard D9R, the IDF operates remote-controlled armored D9N bulldozers known as “Raam HaShachar” (meaning “thunder of dawn”), commonly misidentified as “black thunder.” These remote-controlled bulldozers are employed when there is a significant risk to human life, particularly in hazardous situations such as opening dangerous routes or detonating explosive charges. Both the armored D9R bulldozers and the unmanned “Raam HaShachar” D9N bulldozers played pivotal roles in the Second Lebanon War (2006) and Operation Cast Lead (2008–2009). These bulldozer types were instrumental in opening routes, clearing explosives and IEDs, constructing protective sand mounds for armored fighting vehicles and infantry camps, and demolishing various structures, including rigged buildings, headquarters, warehouses, outposts, bunkers, and tunnels, often concealed within civilian structures. Notably, during Operation Cast Lead, a total of 100 D9s were deployed.
Armored D9R bulldozers also made significant contributions during the effort to extinguish the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire. These bulldozers facilitated the passage of fire trucks and firefighters into the heart of the fire by opening routes, creating fire breaks through shrubbery clearance, and constructing soil barriers to contain the spread. They also played a crucial role in extinguishing fires by burying them in dirt and soil. The Guinness World Records recognized the IDF Caterpillar D9 in 2014 as the most armored bulldozer globally, highlighting its exceptional level of protection. In 2018, the Israel Defense Forces Combat Engineering Corps introduced the “Panda,” a remote-controlled version of the armored Caterpillar D9T bulldozer. These D9T Panda dozers have been gradually deployed and operated. Furthermore, in the same year, Israel Aerospace Industries secured a contract to supply additional D9T Panda dozers to the IDF. In 2019, Elbit Systems secured a contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to install the Iron Fist active protection system on the IDF’s armored D9 bulldozers. This advanced system provides an additional layer of protection against anti-tank missiles, further enhancing the capabilities of these formidable machines.