| Merkava Mk. 4 Main Battle Tank, at the The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun (Yad La-Shiryon).
The Merkava Mk.4 is one of the most advanced tanks in the world. Photo by Michael Mass.
ISRAEL'S MAIN BATTLE TANK: THE MERKAVA (CHARIOT)
The Sinai Campaign of 1956 was characterized by
mobile, armored warfare. Israel deployed 200 tanks in Sinai, versus
150 tanks deployed by the Egyptians.
Since the Sinai Campaign, the land war between Israel
and the surrounding Arab nations has become a war of highly mobile
and armored formations. A total of 2,500 tanks were deployed during
the Six-Day War by Israel and the enemies. 6,200 tanks engaged
in combat during the Yom-Kippur war. Since the Sinai Campaign,
thousands of tanks have been destroyed in battle.
Today, the tank is central to the art of war, and
is considered the primary decisive factor on the modern land battlefield.
Prior to the Sinai Campaign Egypt received, within
the framework of the "Czechoslovakian Arms Deal", 300
Soviet tanks and tank destroyers, including the Stalin-3 and T-34
tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers. This was considered an impressive
addition to the Egyptian armored fleet, which at that time numbered
some 430 western armored vehicles, of various types.
At that time, Israeli weaponry was always inferior
in both qualitative and quantitative aspects, consisting mainly
of World War Two vintage Shermans, and French AMX-13 tanks. Some
years later, Israel managed to acquire some British Centurions
and American M48 Patton tanks, and more recently, some American
M60 Main Battle Tanks. But the numeric and qualitative inferiority
continued, and Israel had no option except to start developing
their own armored force, with whatever resources available.
The first step was the modernization of the tanks
and armored vehicles they already had. Israel proved, by the means
of their ingenuity, to be able to upgrade their available armored
force up to a point that they could, by the means of a very well
thought concept of combined arms warfare, plus the introduction
of new training systems for their troops, to defeat all threats
and to advance and occupy part of enemy territory, overcoming the
superiority those enemies appeared to have.
In time, the continuity of the ever present possibility
of war ensued the decision, by the Israelis, to develop their own
Main Battle Tank. The original plan was for the development of
a tank to be based primarily on existing systems and components.
But, as a result of various know-how restrictions, specific technological
reasons and operational requirements, it become clear that if Israel
was to develop an entirely new tank, it would necessarily have
be based not only on existing systems, but also on entirely new
developments and original components.
With the objective of reducing the development time
to a minimum, it was adopted a philosophy of "telescopic development" process.
This method is characterized by the start of serial production,
based on prototypes, before completion of all development and demonstration
stages. So, the last development stages were happening as the production
process itself was going on.
| Merkava Mk.1
| Merkava Mk.2
| Merkava Mk.3
It was also decided to utilize the industrial infrastructures
existing within the IDF, the civilian and governmental military
industries, expanding the manufacturing potential of existing plants
where necessary. The existing IDF basic tank depot was to be utilized
as the tank's final assembly plant. In addition, two hundred industrial
plants would be upgraded with new technologies and capabilities,
as required for the manufacture of the thousands of parts, components
and systems, needed for the production of the Merkava MBT. It was
decided that any technological knowledge which may be lacking would
be acquired in part from abroad, and in part developed within the
country's own defense and industrial establishments and by Israeli
| The Merkava Mk. 2
The Merkava is the main battle tank in service with
the Israeli armed forces. The first Merkava Mk 1 tanks were supplied
to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1979. Production of the
Mk 1 continued up to 1983, when the IDF began to receive the Merkava
Mk 2. The Mk 2 featured improved mobility, fire control system
and armour, as well as the inclusion of an internal 60 mm mortar.
Production of Mk 2 continued until 1990 when it was superseded
by the Mk 3. The Merkava Mk 3 Baz entered service with the IDF
at the beginning of 1990. The main features of the Merkava Mk 3
are a new suspension system, a 1200 horsepower engine and new transmission,
a higher power main gun, and particularly new armour protection.
Ballistic protection is provided by special armour modules, which
are attached to the tank by bolts. These are easily replaced whenever
better ballistic technology is introduced. About 1200 Merkava Mk
2 and Mk 3 tanks are in service with the IDF.
| The Merkava Mk 3 Baz with 4th
generation sloped armour packs, fitted to the turret sides.
The Merkava is the innovative Israeli design of
Major General Israel Tal. 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 also carry a small Infantry squad internally under
complete armored protection.
| An Israeli Merkava
3 main battle tank just after firing its 120mm smoothbore gun.
Golan Heights, late 1990's.
of Jody Harmon.
Merkava Mk.4 Main Battle Tank. Photo by Michael Mass.
The IDF has begun to equip itself with the Merkava
Mk-4 tank, which was completely developed in Israel and is considered
one of the best tanks in the world. The new tank, a fourth generation
of the Israeli tank, is currently in production, and is expected
to enter operational status with a regular tank brigade, replacing
older M-60 (Magach) tanks currently in service. It represents a
sensible improvement over its three predecessors of the Merkava
series, being a more lethal weapon on the one hand, and a safer
vehicle for its crew, on the other.
| The new Merkava Mk. 4: Front
|| Back view of the Merkava Mk.
The Merkava Mk-4 includes innovations in all tank
quality components - protection and survivability, firepower and
Protection and survivability
The principles on which the design of the Merkava
tank family development was based have been applied again in the
Merkava Mk-4. Priority has been given to protection and survivability,
utilizing the tank's systems for protecting the crew (the engine
is installed in the front of the tank), with storage of ammunition
in protected containers, automatic fire suppression system, an
overpressure NBC system, and more.
Unique among the main battle tanks of the world,
the Merkava design features a front-mounted power pack, which presents
a heavy mass in the forward area, protecting the crew from enemy
attack. Enemy fire directly striking the front of the tank, the
most likely point of attack, is absorbed by the mass of the engine
block, protecting the crew. This configuration also cleared room
at the rear section for a safe exit and enough space to carry a
few fully armed infantrymen, in addition to the crew. The rear
access hatch allows for the quick and safe exit of injured crewmen
or pickup of wounded soldiers for evacuation.
The Merkava is one of the best protected tanks in
the world. Its advanced protective systems provide increased protection
against penetration of APFSDS shells and all known ATGM's, and
its sensors are capable of detecting the launch of such missiles
in advance, including laser-guided missiles. The tank's is fitted
with the Amcoram LWS-2 laser warning system, with threat warning
display installed at the commander's station.
A view of the Merkava Mk.4 top armor. The Merkava Mk.4 is one of the best protected tanks in the world.
Photo by Ed Brighton.
In the Merkava Mk-4, the ballistic protection is
modular and provides more effective protection against modern threats,
involving both protection efficiency and coverage area. Above all,
the ballistic protection includes roof protection, which provides
a capability against overhead attacks. The electromagnetic threat
identification warning system is an advanced generation of its
predecessor in the Mk-3. The turret and the hull are fitted with
a modular armour system which can be changed in the field. The
forward section of the turret is fitted with additional blocks
of armour which provide extra protection against the latest generation
of top attack anti-tank missiles. A skirt of chains with ball weights
is installed on the lower half of the turret bustle. Incoming HEAT
projectiles detonate on impact with the chains instead of penetrating
the turret ring. Sprung armour side skirts protect the wheels and
The tank is equipped with a 120-mm gun that is an
advanced generation of the type developed for the Merkava Mk-3.
Its 120mm gun is also modified to sustain higher pressures, resulting
in improved range and penetration performance. The new gun provides
for firing of high-power munitions with increased penetrating capabilities.
The ready-to-fire ammunition is stored in a protected compartment.
The system allows the loader to semi-automatically select the desired
| 10P Revolving Magazine
of the Merkava Mk. 4
| A microprocessor
controlled, fully automated, electrically driven, 120 mm rounds
magazine. The system is located in an isolated space of the
turret and is designed to protect the crew in case of ammunition
explosion. The system is easy to operate from the crew compartment.
The loader can select proper ammunition out of four different
types and 10 rounds total.
The tank's new fire control system includes modern
components, whose capabilities are very high in detection range
and target acquisition. The night vision system is based on the
world's leading thermal technology. The automatic tracking ability
has been significantly improved. The systems provide for the implementation
of an effective combat doctrine in target acquisition, allocation
and destruction by commander and gunner. The tank is equipped with
a modern fire control and sighting system which includes computerized
ballistic calculations and compensations, a dual axes stabilized
gunner sight and a dual axis stabilized commander panoramic sight,
both equipped with an advanced FLIR and TV channels for day and
night operation. The system is equipped with an improved tracking
system which enables tracking of moving targets, such as tanks,
helicopters, vehicles or soldiers. It also enables locking the
sight and gun on targets when the tank is on the move, utilizing
the ultra-fast gun stabilization and electrical turret drive system.
Merkava Mk-4 is believed to be protected by a new type of hybrid
armour, which can be conformed from modular elements, to match
specific threats. The Mk-4 retains the hull design of the previous
The tank also utilize the Battle Management System
(BMS) designed by Elbit Systems' ElOp - the system is providing
fast communication networking between the commander and subordinate
units, and enables the crew to plan missions, navigate and continuously
update their situation awareness. The system also enables recording
and debriefing the operation, by utilizing the tank's digital recorder.
The Merkava Mk4 is equipped with the new VDS-60 digital data recorder
produced by Vectop, it records and restores the sight images and
observation data collected during the mission. The capture of such
images can also be shared by other elements, which are networked
with the BMS, to enable reporting of enemy targets. This concept
is rapidly becoming an essential part of the "digitized land
forces" integrated battlefield concept, combining tanks, anti-tank
and combat helicopters in a combined task force at various levels.
Each crew member has an individual flat-panel color displays showing
the status of systems each member is responsible for. The gunner
and commander can also see the sight images on their individual
screens. The commander can use his display for map navigate, orientation
For example, the driver can see a rear and side
view of the tank from the closed compartment. This capability is
derived from a new, and unique system called Tank Sight System,
developed by Vectop. The system provides video coverage the tank's
surroundings in day and night. It improves safety, especially when
traveling backwards and in conditions where the driver's visibility
is impaired. Merkava Mk 4 uses four cameras installed in hardened
cases embedded outside the tank. These cameras are providing full
peripheral view displayed on high resolution monitors installed
at the driver's position and in the fighting compartment.
Another feature provided by the "computerization" of
the Merkava Mk4 is the introduction of "integrated training
capability", providing the crew and unit a sophisticated training
environment based on their tanks and readily available in the field.
This capability will be integrated with the "virtual scenario" a
set of virtual terrain features, friendly and enemy elements, and "intelligent" behaviors
based on pre-set maneuvers, doctrinal concepts etc. All will be
presented to the tank crew, and unit members, through their observation
systems, sights and sensors, to support a comprehensive training
scene in the field.
The system which supports the firepower is controlled
by displays and advanced operating systems, helping the commander
with effective data communication and battle management. The tank
carries an ammunition store of 50 rounds of 120 mm ammunition.
The tank is also equipped with three 7.62 mm machine guns, two
roof mounted and one co-axial with the main gun. The tank carries
a store of 10,000 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition.
The 60 millimeter mortar system, which is a large
caliber gun with a low muzzle velocity, is capable of firing high
explosive rounds and illumination bombs. The crew can load, aim
and fire the mortar system from within the turret. The mortar system
is developed by Soltam Limited of Haifa.
Merkava Mk.3 firing a LAHAT 120mm missile from a hull-down position.
A series of live firing tests of the LAHAT - Laser
Guided anti-tank missile developed by IAI/MBT (Israel Aircraft
Industries-MBT Division) included the firing of 120mm missiles,
adapted for smooth-bore guns used on Merkava Mk3, Merkava Mk4,
Leopard 2A5/6 and M1A1/A2 Abrams tanks. The missile is also designed
for employment from launch tubes, where it could be deployed from
fixed positions, light vehicles or APC's. The missile’s trajectory
can be set to match either tank (top attack) or helicopter (direct
attack) engagement. Finally, the missile uses a tandem warhead
which can defeat modern armour and reactive panels. The main warhead
has a high penetration capability, defeating all known armored
vehicles at high impact angles typical of top attack trajectories.
The Merkava Mk-4 tank is equipped with a modern
engine. This is a 1,500 horse power American-built diesel engine,
controlled by a computer connected both to the driver's panel and
to the modern automatic transmission system, affording the tank
greater power than the previous version, which has a 1,200-horsepower
engine. Some of the new models have already covered more than 10,000
kilometers in field tests. The engine and transmission constitute
a power pack that is considered a world leader. The great power
of the engine, in conjunction with the strong suspension based
on that of the Mk-3, provide the tank with high mobility and maneuverability.
The installation of the new power pack in the Merkava tank has
allowed for a redesign of the hull in a way that has improved frontal
protection and the driver's field of view. For improving reverse
driving, a camera has been developed which enables the driver to
look behind the tank while driving backwards without requiring
commander or ground direction.
According to the tank's designers, headed by the
progenitor of the Merkava, Maj. Gen. (res.) Israel Tal, the fourth
generation represents a quantum leap forward. Part of the revolution
lies in the fact that the tank will, for the first time, be equipped
with full perimeter defense, both vertical and horizontal. This,
combined with an advanced observation and control system, will
enable the tank commander to function from the turret with full
protection from external threats such as anti-tank missiles.
The engine pack is easily replaced. The tank is
powered by the new General Dynamics GD833 1,500-horsepower direct
injection, liquid cooled diesel engine, (co-produced in the USA
by General Dynamics and MTU). This type is also powering the French
Leclerc MBT. This powerful weighs 1.9 tons net, and 4.9 tons with
its entire power-pack. This powerful engine affords the tank greater
mobility than the previous versions, which had the 900 and 1,200-horsepower
engines. The tank utilizes an electric turret and gun control system,
designed by Elbit Systems, which comprises two electrical brushless
motors, produced by Bental Industries.
The Merkava Mk-4 is expected to be equipped with
an active full perimeter defense, which utilizes, among other capabilities,
warning against laser-guided threats. The Mk-4 like its predecessors,
is also equipped with a central filtering system designed by Kinetics,
which maintains positive air pressure at the fighting compartment,
for protection in a chemical biological and radiological (CBR)
environment. The system also provides air conditioning for individual
crew members (micro-cooling) and for the entire cabin, as well
as auxiliary power when positioned at “silent watch” for
Merkava Tanks- Comparative of Main
Defense Forces Web Site
Technology Web site
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at Eurosatory 2006
Military Industries, Ltd. (IMI)
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Merkava Mk 4 - Israel's Newest MBT Enters Service",
by Lieutenant Colonel David Eshel, IDF, Retired (in Adobe
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