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Merkava Mk3/Mk4 Tank

The State of Israel made the decision in August 1970 to develop and build a Main Battle Tank. Until that time, Israel could not equip its armored corps with new tanks due to the continuous refusal of all nations to sell modern tanks to Israel.

The layout of the Merkava (Chariot) is unconventional, with the turret and crew compartments to the rear of the vehicle and the engine up front. This was done to improve crew survival in the case of an armor-penetrating hit on front quarter. The vehicle has a hatch on the center deck forward of the turret for the driver, and hatches in the turret for the commander and loader. The gunner uses either one of these hatches. There is another clamshell hatch on the rear for crew escape or access under fire. The turret is of low cross section with a large basket at the rear for crew gear. The Merkava can carry 6 passengers, one for each 12 rounds of main gun ammunition removed. Normally, the passenger space is filled with main gun ammunition, of which the Merkava carries a large supply.

The need to introduce modern tanks to the Israeli Army became acute when Israel faced a tremendous build-up of hostile military formations beyond its borders, equipped with the best weapon systems of that era including modern tanks and anti - tank systems. The decision to develop the Israeli tank named MERKAVA (Chariot in the biblical language) became inevitable.

The Israeli development team led by General Israel Tal, integrated state-of-the-art technology with lessons of war in the concept and the design of the Merkava and all its future generations:

  • The first Merkava tanks, Merkava Mk.1, were fielded in April 1979. Those tanks took part in actual operations during the Peace for Galilee War and proved themselves to be more effective than all other tanks in the theatre.
  • The second generation, Merkava Mk. 2, was first delivered in 1984. Production of this version began shortly after the adoption of the Merkava in 1983, and continued until 1989. It is basically the Merkava Mk 1 with extra armor and an improved fire control system. In addition, the transmission has been improved leading to an increase in range. The 60mm mortar can be loaded and fired from within the turret without exposing the crew to enemy fire.
  • The Third generation, Merkava Mk.3, was introduced in 1990 and became the backbone of the Israeli Armor Corp. It features a larger gun, a threat warning system, and more advanced modular armor that can be changed in the field. A more powerful engine has been put in the Merkava Mk 3, and air conditioning has been added. Up to 6 passengers may be carried by removing 9 main gun rounds per passenger. An advanced version of Merkava Mk. 3, with an improved Fire-Control System was fielded in 1995.
  • As of 2002, the next generation, Merkava Mk. 4, was undergoing field tests. In September 2007 the Israeli government announced a new defense plan, Teffen 2012, that forsaw adding several dozen Merkava IV main battle tanks. The renewed procurement of Merkava IV tanks stemmed from Israels conclusion that the Second Lebanon War suggested that, properly deployed, the tank can provide its crew with better protection than in the past. The conclusion is that the Israel Defense Forces still required an annual supply of dozens of advanced tanks in order to replace the older, more vulnerable versions that are still in service.

During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israeli armor suffered heavy losses from Egyptian and Syrian wire-guided anti-tank missiles. The high casualty rate spurred the IDF, which had previously depended on US-made Patton and Sherman tanks and British Centurion tanks, to develop the Merkava (Heb., chariot), considered one of the world's most effective and safest battle tanks.

The Merkava is the innovative Israeli design of Major General Israel Tal, a former Armored Corps commander. Tal's team sought to design a tank that provided maximum protection to the tanks crew. One element of that defense is the placement of the tank's engine at the front of the vehicle, where it serves as a shield for the personnel compartment. This in turn provided more space in the vehicle's rear, which can be used to carry up to six extra soldiers. In addition, a special "canopy" protects the commander from indirect fire; the turret and the hull are fitted with a modular armor system that can be changed in the field; and the forward section of the turret is fitted with additional blocks of armor that provide extra protection against the latest generation of anti-tank missiles. A "skirt" of chains with ball weights is attached to the lower half of the turret, causing incoming projectiles to detonate on impact with the chains instead of penetrating the turret ring.

The tank became operative in 1979, and was first employed in the 1982 Operation "Peace for Galilee". The Mark I model was succeeded by the Mark II in 1983, which was replaced by the Mark III in 1990. Among the features of the Mark III are a new suspension system, a 1200-horsepower engine and new transmission, a more powerful main gun, and ballistic protection provided by special armor modules. The main 120-mm gun, developed by Israel Military Industries, is enclosed in a thermal sleeve that increases accuracy by preventing heat distortion.

The primary design criteria was crew survivability. Every part of the overall design is expected to contribute to helping the crew survive. The engine is in the front to provide protection to the crew. There is a special protective umbrella for the tank commander to enable protection from indirect fire with the hatches open. Special "spaced armor" is in use along with protected fuel and ammo compartments. Rear ammunition stowage is combined with a rear entrance and exit. Since the rounds are stowed in containers that can be removed from the vehicle whenever necessary, this space can accommodate tank crewmen who have been forced to abandon their vehicles, or, if thought to be appropriate, even infantrymen. Rear ammunition stowage allows replenishment much more easily than if rounds have to be replaced in a carousel in the hull center, as in typical Russian vehicles.

Tank soldiers have long admired Merkava's rear entrance and exit, recognizing that it would allow them to mount and dismount unobserved by the enemy and would provide an excellent alternative escape route. The Merkava can carry a small Infantry team internally under complete armored protection. It has a crew of 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader) and can carry 6 troops.

Merkava Mark IV

Mechanized and armored formations are necessary to obtain freedom of manuver in contemporary types of operations, The most effective means of fighting tanks are combat teams of light infantry. Israel analyzed the best methods of fighting such organizations, and accepted that in first phase we have to isolate and surround the area, to reach a domination through aggressive action of armored and mechanized formations and only later to keep and clean the area, to use lighter units. This method was used during Shield Wall operation on Western Shore, conducted between March 29 and May 10 2002.

Because of the health problems Gen. Israel Tal, by 2001 was unable to devote himself fully to Merkava development. The Merkava IV was to have all operational properties of Merkava III, but with improved survivability against the new dangers of battlefield. The design started from improving of turret protection, at the cost of a rise of weight and changes of structure (as more heavy turret requested more efficient revolving mechanism). This, of course, caused more changes - rising weight asked for more power, and this needed more hull space. All this is much more than simple adaptations of Merkava III can cope with.

The combat christening of Merkava IV took place during second Lebanon war summer 2006. It was very confused environment. On the beginning Israel had not a declared war, so armed forces were not used accordingly to doctrine. Up to final parts of this war Israel kept its tanks away, understanding that in ambushes prepared by Hezbollah, tanks will have great losses. Up to change of war conception tanks were used to medevac and food and water supply missions. During one of such clashes near Brint Jbeil Israel lost one Merkava IV. The came from a deeply buried IED. It was battalion commander vehicle with 7 soldiers. One of them has been killed, two wounded. Second tank from this battalion was hit by ATGM in top of turret. The head didn't penetrated but the tank commander was killed (brain shock).

When General Staff decided to take all Lebanon in wide manuver, Merkavas were introduced in Eastern Sector nearby Wadi Al-Saluqi. During this action 16 Merkava IV tanks have been hit, 9 tank personnel have been killed. At least 8 tanks had penetrated armor but none was burned out. After evacuation they were rebuilt and used again. In all cases of penetration this was done by tandem warheads of Russian production (Kornet 9M133, Metis-M9K115-2, and spandrel AT-5) in the hands of Hezbollah. Many numerous investigations after the war supported the need of additional armor protection (ERA). But most demanding was rebuilding of system of intensive training, so that they again will be operations ready.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006 more than 40 tanks were hit, most of them by anti-tank missiles, repeatedly fired by Hezbollah from hidden positions that were difficult to detect by IDF tank crews. Following this conflict, the IDF accelerated the development of Active Protection Systems (APS), and fielded the system with tank battalions, being equipped with new armored vehicles. This includes new Merkava Mk4 tanks equipped with APS and the new Namer Infantry Fighting Vehicles, which also mounts the system.

Part of the active protection system integrated on Merkava Mk4 includes the Trophy active protection system's interceptor (in the background), WindGuard flat-panel radar (in the front) and Laser warning system (on the left).

According to IDF sources, the Merkava tank was patrolling the border with Gaza, when a 'missile launch' was detected by the tank's defensive system. Trophy uses the Elta System's EL/M 2133 'WindGuard' radar as the primary sensor detecting missiles and RPG threats. When such threat is classified by the system as 'acute' (aiming directly at the protected vehicle), the system alerts the crew and tracks the missile closing-in on the tank.

As the RPG enters the system's kill-zone, Trophy automatically activates its hard kill countermeasure (Multiple Explosive Formed Penetrators - MEFP), destroying the threat at a safe distance from the tank. Some reports indicated the intercept was close enough to trigger the tank's automatic fire 'Spectronix' protection, which have lead to Palestinian claims of actually hitting the tank. Shortly afterwards, IDF soldiers identified several terrorists in the launching area and fired in their direction, scoring a hit.

The Trophy inherently supports such a procedure. Beside its role as the Trophy's primary sensor, detecting the threat and calculating Time-to-Impact (TTI) and plotting the optimal intercept point, the Windguard radar also localizes the firing position of the missile being tracked, enabling the IDF troops to rapidly engage active enemy positions, eliminating follow-up attacks on its armor.

With the deployment of Merkava Mk 4 tanks equipped with Rafael Defense Systems' Trophy (ASPRO-A) Active Protection Systems (APS) along the Gaza border, that followed a Merkava tank being hit by a Kornet anti-tank missile fired by the Palestinians, battle testing of the Trophy APS was only a matter of time. The system was baptized in combat in March 2011, proving its worth in a first combat engagement with a hostile RPG, fired by Palestinian anti-tank team from Gaza. The system and crew performed exactly as expected, integrating automatic response to neutralize an immediate threat, rapid situational understanding and decision and forcible response, effectively eliminating the threat.

During Protective Edge, this system saved 15 tanks from anti-tank missile hits, four of which with battalion commanders in them.

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Page last modified: 11-01-2016 20:17:31 ZULU