This week, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) revealed its latest Merkava tank iteration, nicknamed “Barak” (Thunder) for the first time.
The next-generation Merkava Mark 5 main battle tank (MBT) has been under development for over five years, making its official introduction highly anticipated.
According to the Israeli government, the first models of these “fifth-generation” MBTs were delivered to the 52ndArmored Battalion of the 401stBrigade.
In a statement, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said “The innovative era that brings with it the Barak tank to the IDF is an exceptional leap forward and a clear expression of the IDF’s technological abilities which time and again guarantee its qualitative advantage.”
An Overview of the Merkava Family of Tanks
The Merkava family of tanks has remained the mainstay of Israel’s armored corps for more than four decades. In the late 1960s, Israel was set to procure and domestically produce the UK’s Chieftain tank, however, this deal ultimately fell through.
The IDF recognized that in order to ensure Israel’s protection, it would have to rely less on foreign nations and build up its own manufacturing and development efforts. When the series was first under development, the IDF prioritized keeping personnel losses down in combat. For this reason, the Merkava tanks are notably covered in thick-spaced armor.
Introducing the Barak Variant
Throughout the years, the MBT has undergone a series of modifications and advancements to retain its relevancy and edge over competitor armored vehicles. The latest Barak variant possesses a range of new capabilities, including the ability to zero in on and target enemy tanks before they are able to attack. Like its predecessors, the Barak was designed first and foremost to protect its operators. At the push of a button, crew members are able to view their surroundings outside of the tank without having to exit, which adds protection and also helps solve complex navigation issues in urban areas.
Other new technologies incorporated into the tank include advanced AI, multi-touch 21” screens, and sophisticated helmets that are often associated with fighter jet pilots. These Elbit helmets display information about ongoing fighting to operators, and “generates an image that enables the crew to ‘see through’ the vehicle’s armor,” according to the helmet’s manufacturer. Similar to pilot helmets, this advanced system will enable 360-degree scanning in real time with the aid of artificial intelligence capabilities.
Ordnance-wise, the Barak will match its predecessors in terms of lethality. These new tanks will sport the advanced Windbreaker missile defense system that is currently fitted on older Merkava MBTs. Known as the Trophy active protection system, this layer of defense is perhaps the real star of Israel’s Merkava tank family.
The Trophy system has saved countless lives in combat by using advanced tech to defend Israel’s tanks against anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades. In fact, the success rate of the Trophy system is so high that has enabled the IDF’s Armored Corps to act more offensively on the battlefield.
The introduction of the newest Barak variant will certainly serve as an additional deterrent to Israel’s adversaries.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.