Israeli Company, Hurt by U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Iraq, Pivots and Returns to Profit

Plasan Sasa's annual sales have surpassed 1 billion shekels again; and it changed from being a company that makes armor for other companies' vehicles, to a provider of armored vehicles

The Plasan plant at Kibbutz Sasa
The Plasan plant at Kibbutz Sasa Gil Eliahu

In a ceremony on Tuesday evening, the National Defense Industrial Association awarded the Red Ball Express prize to Plasan Sasa and its CEO, Danny Ziv. The Israeli company sells excellent vehicle armor to the U.S. army that saved countless American lives, the organization said. Each year the self-described “non-partisan, non-profit, educational association” awards people and entities that have distinguished themselves for their contributions strengthening homeland security. Plasan Sasa was recognized by NDIA’s Tactical Wheeled Vehicle Division.

Plasan has been a major player in vehicle armor for over 15 years. American forces used its armor in Iraq and Afghanistan, boosting the company’s fortunes until 2011.

Sales in 2009 rose 13% over the year before to over 4 billion shekels ($1.1 billion); 2010 sales sank to 3 billion shekels – and then the U.S. withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan. The company was not prepared in advance, for instance with new products. In 2013 and 2014, it sank to losses and set about reinventing itself. Efficiency measures included layoffs.

Plasan’s now doing well again. Annual sales have surpassed 1 billion shekels again; and it changed from being a company that makes armor for other companies’ vehicles, to a provider of armored vehicles. It also develops composite materials for civilian and military vehicles. While the company suspects U.S. President Donald Trump will increase budgets for protecting American soldiers, it isn’t dependent on the American military anymore.

Having risen in the value chain, and now providing services and training as well, Plasan today works with the whole world, Ziv says. The company, which is based in Kibbutz Sasa in the Galilee, employs 1,300 people, of whom 650 are in the United States and 180 in France.

The new strategy includes forging into homeland security – selling not only to armies but to police forces, border guards and so on. “For example, we built a special vehicle for the military police of Sao Paulo that can transport 24 fighters, which was also used in the last Olympics in Brazil. The vehicle has diurnal and nocturnal vision systems, grenade launchers, the ability to cope with street events and demonstrations,” he says.

One of the company’s successes is the SandCat, which can carry up to 11 people and serve for patrol and routine security missions. It’s based on a Ford 550 and weighs 8.5 tons with armor and people on board. Missiles and launchers can be added on; South Korea bought SandCats that it armed with weaponry from Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Israeli defense firm. Plasan sells the vehicle, formerly called the Caracal until a client asked the company to change its name, to armies and police around the world, including to Israel’s Border Police.

Actually Plasan had developed the SandCat in 2005, neglected it to make armor for the U.S. army, then went back to it. Now it sells 12 upgraded versions. “It feels like driving an armored racing car,” claims Ziv.