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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

How Israel’s Merkava Tank Keeps Getting Better

Merkava
Israeli Merkava Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The destruction of hundreds of Russian main battle tanks in Ukraine has spurred debate about their relevance in modern conflicts. Estimates paint a dreary picture for Russian armor, with more than 1,000 tanks believed lost since the onset of the invasion. Although many industry experts and military analysts believe MBTs might be the weapon of the past, Israel’s newest Merkava variant proves otherwise. This spring, the Israeli Defense Forces unveiled its new Merkava Mark 5 MBT. Dubbed Barak (lightning in Hebrew), the new tank is truly unmatched in its capabilities.  

The Origins of the Merkava Tank

The Merkava family of main battle tanks has been used by Israel’s armored corps for over five decades. Originally developed in the 1970s, the Merkava Mark 1 did not see combat until the 1982 Lebanon War.

The IDF began working on its own indigenous battle tank after the United Kingdom pulled back from a joint-tank development initiative. Once the IDF realized it could not count on foreign powers to fulfill its defense needs, it turned to its own domestic production capabilities to ensure the country’s land-based protection.

Developed in the Merkava and Armored Combat Vehicles Division of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the Mark 1 was primarily designed to provide maximum protection to its crew. By the time of the tank’s production, Israel was merely 30 years old, and its small Armored Corps was a priority.

The tank featured fortified front armor, and its engine was placed in the front of the vehicle. Many comparable tanks sported a rear-positioned engine, making the Mark 1’s internal structure unique. 

The “Lightning” Does Not Disappoint 

Over the years, newer Merkava variants continued to sport cutting-edge capabilities, and the newest Mark 5 Barak does not fall short of the standard. Equipped with enhanced artificial intelligence, VR capabilities and updates sensors. A senior official from the Armored Corps noted that “the advanced defense capabilities and the use of electronic means will prepare the combat soldiers to carry out missions according to the level of urgency,” adding that “along with all this, additional logistical improvements will also be introduced that will enable the tank to carry out missions that are up to 30% longer than current ones.”

According to the Jewish News Syndicate,“The tank will also include new, advanced sensors enabling it to independently acquire targets and strike them rapidly, as well as deploy electronic-warfare capabilities and advanced processing systems.”

Trophy System Changes the Game 

Perhaps the most significant capability the Barak possesses is the Trophy active protection system. Designed by Israel-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Trophy protects vehicles from anti-tank guided missiles, anti-tank rockets, and high-explosive anti-tank rounds, among other threats.

The Trophy system enhances a tank’s ability to locate enemy tanks, strongly increasing the crew’s survivability. This in turn also allows its operators to be more offensive, since its advanced defensive abilities lend it a sense of security.

While the Trophy system has been delivered to international militaries in recent years, the Merkava Mark 5 is not yet on the market.

The advanced nature and survivability of the Merkava main battle tank will allow it to be a formidable force on the battlefield, regardless of perceived inadequacies of tanks in modern warfare.

As tensions continue to flare in the Middle East, the Merkava, along with Israel’s stockpile of domestically made cutting-edge weapons, will continue to serve the needs of the Jewish state’s defensive wall. 

Merkava: A Story in Pictures

Merkava Tank

Merkava Tank

Merkava

Merkava Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Merkava IV Tanks

Merkava IV tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Israel's Merkava

Merkava Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

Written By

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. xheavy

    November 23, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    There are a Infantry Carrier called Namers in the IDF. They are former Main Battle Tanks in their Military that carries Infantry now.

    They usually go where the Tanks go. The Merkevas can carry infantry and in some cases provide their own mortar support.

    You usually dont expect Merkevas to be on any market. These are strictly Israeli and as far as I know no Soldier has been killed in one despite several wars to date.

    Tanks have always found their own targets independantly. Thats what they do. HOWEVER… the new Networking among tanks, command and all others including individuals also whom are part of it will be able to find targets to and from any tank or asset such as Artillery etc. The Hamas enemy does not have networking so any one who is spotted doing anything in battle against Israel can expect to be wiped out by anything that can kill the target. Could be a tank, artillery, sniper or drone or something else entirely.

    The big story of Israeli Armor dates to the Golan in one of the prior wars. Two Israeli Tanks stood on the fighting positions for dozens of hours facing down what was enough Syrian Tanks that filled the Golan Valley coming to Israel by the hundreds together. Other IDF tanks also fought to defend the Golan. Eventually the last two IDF Tanks on the line pretty much went through all of their ammunition accurately taking out the enemy horde. Stories indicate it took about 30 hours.

    I consider the IDF Tankers and their Armor to be some of the very best in the world. There may be other tanks that are good, but against known Israeli anti tank assets they simply dont get to exist after being summarily destroyed through a variety of means that are not spoken of to this day.

    We keep tanks in our army because we can do so and they are good to have. However Israeli builds tanks to ensure a future of their Homeland and every war that they have forced upon them evolves the Tanks and other things a little bit better, as iron sharpens iron.

  2. 403Forbidden

    November 24, 2022 at 6:21 am

    Hmm, merkava story narrated here simply just too good (for its reputation).

    In feb 2002, a merkava tank crossing a small bridge on the Karni-netzarim road in Gaza ran over a remote-control mine apparently laid in advance by insurgents who correctly anticipated the tank’s appearance or deployment and was destroyed by the mine’s extremely powerful blast.

    The insurgent group that planted the mine even shot a brief video of the attack.

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