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Merkava Mk3/Mk4 Tank

Until 1980, the Israeli ground forces were armed with tanks developed and manufactured in other countries. Some of these vehicles, for example the American M48 and the British "Centurion", have been modernized to improve their combat characteristics and to better adapt them to specific geographic conditions and the peculiarities of warfare in this theater of operations. However, these tanks did not sufficiently satisfy the requirements of the Israeli military command, and therefore, in the early 70s, the Israeli government approved a program for the national development of the Merkava (Chariot). Many Israeli enterprises participated in the design and manufacture of this machine. In addition, foreign specialists and firms were involved. Already at the beginning of the work it became clear that for the production of Merkava tanks, the Israeli industry would not be able to provide them with cast and rolled armor plates and other parts, as well as an engine, transmission and many more structural elements and equipment. As reported in the foreign press, much assistance in the development and production of the tank was provided by the United States. Nearly nine years following the establishment of the Tank and APC Administration, Israel issued its first tank, the Merkava Mark I. Each new generation of the Merkava is more sophisticated and better protected, incorporating lessons learned and adapting to changing battlefields and combat scenarios. Today, the most updated Merkava model- Merkava Mark IV- is considered one of the most advanced tanks in the world. The Tank and APC Administration bears the overall responsibility for the design, development and production of Israel's tanks as well as the establishment and expansion of related industries. The program was first led by two-time winner of Israel's Security Prize, Maj. Gen. Israel Tal, also considered the "father of the Merkava". The layout of the Merkava 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 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 Israel’s 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 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.

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.

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.

In the Lebanon War of 1982 from the Israeli side of the IDF's 4,000 tanks participated, according to various sources, from 500 to 1,000 vehicles. These were then in service with the M60A1 "Patton", "Centurion" and "Merkava" Mk.1; the latter - about 200 units. Mk.1, according to foreign experts, has proven itself well in battles. They did not catch fire, despite the turrets and hulls pierced by Syrian T-72 shells. Affected by the successful operation of the automatic fire extinguishing system, the rational protection of ammunition in the rear of the fighting compartment. However, in this war about 50 "Merkavas" were put out of action and, mainly, from the fire of 125-mm T-72 cannons. Many of them were subsequently restored and only seven were lost forever. Only nine crew members were killed.

Nevertheless, the Israeli military command considered that the Mk.1 had insufficient armor, since they could be disabled by direct hits even in the frontal part of the hull and the turret. At the same time, the development of the Merkava Mk.2 tank with more powerful armor protection began.

In the fall of 1997, Merkavas were used in hostilities against the armed formations of the Hezbollah organization in southern Lebanon. Using anti-tank guided missiles 9K111 "Fagot" (according to other sources - "Kornet-E") of Russian production, the Arabs managed to knock out three Merkava Mk.3.

Tanks Mk.2, Mk.3, Mk.4 also participated in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Of 400 such vehicles, 52 were knocked out during the battles. Of these, 50 were guided missiles and RPG grenades, and twenty-two were pierced through the armor. including six Mk.4. Two cars were blown up by land mines. In total, eighteen Mk.4s were damaged. One Mk.2 and one Mk.4 were irretrievably lost; two more Mk.2 and one Mk.3 were completely destroyed by missiles. 23 tankers were killed.

Most of the Merkavas were quickly restored and re-entered service after repairs.

Representatives of the military command of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not skimp on flattering words about the "Merkava" Mk.4, believing that "it contains all the newest and best", and that in its qualities the tank is much superior to previous models. This applied to both his security and the power of the weapons.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:58 ZULU