Learn more about Merkava
- For the religious/mystical connotations of the word, see Merkabah.
Israeli Merkava Mk-III LIC main battle tank
|Type||Main battle tank|
|Place of origin||Israel|
|Weight|| 63 tonnes (I and II) |
65 tonnes (III and IV)
|Length||7.6 m (gun forward=9.04 m)|
|Width||3.72 m (without skirts)|
|Height||2.66 m (turret roof)|
|Crew||4 (Driver, Commander, Gunner, Loader)|
|Armour||laminated steel/nickel composite + classified modular|
| 1 x 105 mm M68 cannon + 62 rounds (I and II) |
1 x 120 mm smoothbore gun + 46 rounds (III and IV)
LAHAT anti-tank missile
| 1 x 7.62 mm coaxial MG (I-III) and/or 1 x 12.7 mm coaxial (IV) |
2 x 7.62 mm MG
1 x 60 mm internal mortar
900 hp (I, II)
1,200 hp (III)
1,500 hp (IV)
|Power/weight|| 14 hp/tonne (I,II)|
18 hp/tonne (III)
23 hp/tonne (IV)
|Speed||Road: 65 km/h;|
The Merkava has been designed for crew survival and battle perseverance and a quick revival in case of bad damage. The heavily shielded engine is placed at the front of the tank, increasing frontal mass, while the crew are able to escape from a disabled Merkava via doors in the rear of the hull.
Being heavily armoured and highly mobile, the Merkava has a unique plating system where the armour plates lock in a grid tightly and can also be disassembled easily for repairing or replacing.
After the Six-Day War and the French embargo on Israel, the IDF signed a deal with Britain in a joint-venture to develop a moder main battle tank—the Chieftan. But in 1969, following pressure from other Arab nations, the British cancelled their contract with Israel and expelled them from the project. Britain then went on to continue the project with Iran.
Israel then realized that it could not rely on other nations to develop it's mechanized forces and weapons systems, and began considering a completely Israeli-made and Israeli-designed MBT. At the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli High Command realized that they did not have the human resources to withstand a war of attrition with any Arab nation; At that conclusion, the Israeli government decided to initiate projects related to designing the Merkava, and placing crew-safety as a top priority.
In response to the development of the Merkava class of tanks, General Israel Tal organized a development team in 1970 to design and construct an indigenous tank-building factor. The team took into consideration Israel's unique geography, geopolitical location, and lessons learned as a consequence of previous conflicts. As a result, the team had two main priorities: speed, and crew-safety.
 Merkava Mk.1
This was the first model of Merkava introducted into general service. It debuted in 1979, developed exclusively for the rough terrain of northern Israel and the Golan Heights. It began with a 105 mm rifled gun M68, and a front and rear set of doors. With it's combat debut in the 1982 Lebanon War, many glaring problems were exposed: Most importantly, it showed a very problematic braking system.
 Merkava Mk.2
The Mark 2 was first inducted into general service in 1983 after the previous year's incursion into Lebanon. It included many new upgrades and improvements, with a firm focus on urban warfare. Further improvements in crew survivability and the introduction of an integral 60 mm mortar followed the war in Lebanon and the battles in Beirut.
 Merkava Mk.3
- A new 120 mm smooth-bore main gun (designated MG-251), and
- A modular armor system allowing quick replacement of damaged armor (designated Kasag).
The modular armor is designed for rapid replacement and repair in the battlefield and for quick upgrading as new designs become available.
Debuting in 1996, the MK 3B BAZ was designed with many improved and additional systems including:
- An improved fire-control system,
- A new anti-NBC cockpit-protection system.
- A new inner crew-cockpit air conditioning system.
The latest generation of the Mark 3 class is the Dor-Dalet. The most significant difference between the two versions is the installation of the Kasag modular armoring system. Other differences include minir upgrades such as:
- Upgraded and strengthened tracks
- Upgraded machine gun design
The newer model also keeps many of the previous modifications, such as air conditioning and NBC protection. Forward-looking upgrades planned for this model include a battlefield-management system (similar to the IVIS system installed in the American Abrahms main battle tank). The system's deployment is crucial to integrating individual tanks and allowing a central command post to follow the course of battle at an individual tank's level.
 Merkava Mk.4
The Mark 4 is the latest generation in the Merkava-series of tanks, and has been in production since 2004. It offers additional crew protection as well as a more powerful and accurate fire-control system. Optimized for urban combat, the Mark 4 has been given improved armor on all sides, not just the front. The modular armor system introduced in the Mark 3 series is still present as well as the anti-NBC measures of the previous generation. A major upgrade to the series was the implementation of fire-proof canisters for storing ammunition. This would prevent any ammunition remaining in the battery from cooking off if the tank burned.
 Upgraded Fire Control
The new fire-control system enables the tank to operate as an anti-helicopter platform, and is theoretically capable of taking down armored attack helicopters such as the French Gazelle and the ubiquitous Russian Hind (both used by Arab nations in Israel's periphery). The tank has the standard 120 mm main gun, .50 caliber coaxial machine gun and 60 mm mortal present on previous versions. The machine gun rear door, both present on all generations, have proven useful in an urban environment.
 Upgraded tracks
The Mark 4 has been designed with an improved caterpillar tracks system. It has been named "Mazkom" by troops, with an official designation of "TSAWS," which stands for tracks, springs, and wheels system (Hebrew: מערכת זחלים קפיצים ומרכובים). The new system is designed to endure the harsh ground conditions of Israeli and minimize incidents of track-spreading.
 Information Systems
The new system has been completely designed, constructed, and tested using Israeli sources. Named "the Battle Management System" (Hebrew: צי"ד), it was designed by Elbit Systems and allows for a centralized distribution of battlefield data. It collects data from tracked units and UAVs deployed in theater, and allows this data to be distributed by the central command posts instantaneously to all units in a given theater.
 Other upgrades
- A video system has been installed in the commander's cabin which allows for a 360 degree viewing area available to the tank commander.
- The main powerplant has been enlarged to 1500 horsepower and allows the tank to accelerate on a sprint to nearly 60 km/h.
 Merkava variants
Following the al-Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli Defence Forces modified some of their Merkavas to satisfy the needs of urban warfare. This adaptation can be done by field engineers and should not harm the tank's combat performance.
 Merkava 3 LIC
This is the main class of Merkava tanks designed for urban warfare. The LIC designation stands for "low intensity conflict", underlining its emphasis on counter-insurgency and street-to-street fighting.
It is equipped with an internal .50 caliber coaxial machine gun, enabling the crew to lay down fairly heavy cover fire without the use of the bulkier, heavier, anti-tank main gun. It also provides much higher protection, because it is fired from inside the crew cabin.
The most sensitive areas of a tank, it's optics, exhaust ports, and ventilators, are protected by high-strength netting, which prevents a direct impact from the ubiquitous RPG.
Pole-markers and a rear camera have also been installed to improve navigation and maneuverability in an urban environment
 Merkava Ambulance
Because the "tankbulance" is an armed vehicle of war, it is not protected by the Geneva Conventions as a traditional ambulance, and is therefore an open target—regardless of any personnel it may be carrying, wounded or otherwise.
It is because of this armament that allows it to be a quite advantageous ambulance. There may be a situation where an unarmed, unarmored ambulance may still come under fire while treating and transporting wounded, regardless of the ambulance's status with the Geneva Conventions. An armed ambulance with the armor to protect the wounded it is collecting can be invaluable in certain tactical situations.
 Merkava Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV)
The Merkava ARV, named: Nam'mer (Hebrew: Tiger) is an armoured recovery vehicle based on a Merkava chassis. It is capable of towing disabled tanks and carries a back-up power plant.
 Merkava based APC/IFV
Only a handful were produced, due to the cost of the vehicle, and the priority placed on fully-functional Merkava main battle tanks.<ref>Page 7, Gelbart, Marsh, and Tony Bryan (illustrator). Modern Israeli Tanks and Infantry Carriers 1985–2004. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-84176-579-1.</ref> yet following Operation Rainbow and the vulnerability of M-113, re-opened the Nemmera program.
On February 15, Ma'ariv reported that a running prototype was fielded by the Givati Brigade and is equipped with a heavy machine gun, which is controlled and loaded from within the vehicle. It was also decided to rename the vehicle from Nemmera to Nammer ("Tiger"). 
 Merkava based self-propelled artillery
Two prototypes of Sholef (Slammer) 155 mm self-propelled howitzer were built by Soltam in 1984–1986. The 45-ton vehicle had a long 52-calibre gun barrel giving a range of 40+ km and was capable of direct fire on the move. It never entered production. 
 General remarks
Like any other tank, the Merkava is vulnerable to remotely operated land mines. During the Al-Aqsa Intifada, three Merkava tanks were destroyed by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, on February 14, 2002; March 14, 2002; and February 16, 2003. A total of ten Israeli soldiers, who were inside the tanks, were killed in these incidents. A number of Merkavas were also damaged, such as on March 19, 2004, in which a tank overturned after being hit by a land mine, injuring two soldiers.
Israeli sources claim that during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict about 50 Merkavas were hit and damaged, with 30 crew members killed and 100 injured, including two battalion commanders <ref>Yedioth:Why did Armored Corps fail in Lebanon?</ref>. In total about the 13% of the tank force used in Lebanon was hit. Merkava and armored corps performance has raised significant questioning in Israel and worldwide since the Merkava is thought to have been one of the most heavily armored tanks. Reportedly, the penetrations were achieved primarily by the usage of modern Russian-made anti-tank missiles.<ref name="BBC Tough lessons for Israeli armour"> "Tough lessons for Israeli armour", BBC News Online, 2006-08-15.</ref><ref>"Missiles neutralizing Israeli tanks"</ref> In addition to missiles, improvised explosive devices proved to be a deadly threat.
As of 2005, some 5,000 workers are directly employed in Merkava production, with another 5,000 employed indirectly, in 220 Israeli firms. In 2005, exports of Merkava-related sub-systems amounted to US $200 million (the tank itself was not exported). The Israel Manufacturers Association expects that by 2007 the number of Merkava production employees will increase by 2,000 and exports will amount to US $400 million.
The Merkava is reputed to have a water chiller to provide tank crews with their required intake of 1 liter of water per hour in the IDF.
 See also
- Gelbart, Marsh, and Tony Bryan (illustrator). Modern Israeli Tanks and Infantry Carriers 1985–2004. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-84176-579-1.
- Katz, Sam, and Peter Sarson (illustrator). Merkava Main Battle Tank MKs I, II & III. Oxford, United Kingdom: Osprey Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-85532-643-4.
 External links
- IDF overview of Merkava's history and variants
- Merkava Mk 3 LIC, Merkava Mk 4 at Defense-Update
- Merkava Mk 1,2,3,4 at War Online.
- Merkava Mk 1,2,3 at voodoo.cz.
- Merkava Mk 3 Baz, Merkava Mk 4 at Army-technology (tank features and pictures from different angles)
- Israeli-Weapons.com Merkava Page (Considerable tank info and pictures)
- Merkava Mk1, Merkava Mk2, Merkava Mk3, Merkava Mk4 at army-guide.com
- ACPR's analysis of Merkava
- Continued Evolution of the Merkava Program at Defense Update
- Report on Merkava performance in 2006 Lebanese conflict
- The Armor Site! page on Merkava
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