Ever since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Israeli Defense Forces were looking for a tank of their own production so they don’t have to rely on their American allies. Also, the M60 Patton has proven to be not the best fit for the Israeli tactics. The casualties were too high both in machines and men and that was a reason enough to come with a domestic made solution that will meet all the IDF’s requirements.
The ddevelopment of Merkava Mk.I begun in 1973 but the first batch entered the service in 1979. During years in which the IDF encountered several threats from its neighbors, the development continued and nowadays we have the new piece of the art within their ranks and it is called the Merkava Mk.IV. It is arguably the best tank in the ranks of western allies as it incorporates many features that increase its survivability and combat effectiveness. The last real test against some of the state of the art Russian ATGMs was during the 2008 Lebanon campaign and Merkava Mk. IV proved to be quite resistant and reliable.
Its modular armor was able to cope with almost any attack and only a small number of those tanks were penetrated with Kornet and Metis-M missiles. The human casualties were pretty low even when the tanks were knocked out of service and the best part is that most of the hit vehicles were back on the battlefield after field repairs. Some reports say that only 2 of these tanks suffered damage beyond repair and that is a great result taking in consideration that over 1.000 ATGMs were fired at IDF.
Such a great service record would be impossible to achieve without the modular armor that is deployed on the Merkava tanks of the latest generation. The entire armor is made out of separate modules which can be easily replaced on the battlefield if they sustain any damage. This not only gets the tank back into battle after a short fix but also prolongs its life and the life of the crew.
On the other hand, the firepower of Merkava tanks is legendary. The main weapon is a 120mm MG253 smoothbore gun with LAHAT capability (capable of firing LAHAT ATGMs from the gun barrel) and it allows Merkava to attack any kind of hard target. For the defense from the air it uses its powerful 12.7 mm machine gun and for the infantry it has two 7.62 machine guns and a 60mm mortar in a separate section.
Merkava is also capable of carrying infantrymen in its back section and that improves its overall characteristics and allows the infantry support to be carried with the tank.
Finally, it has a completely dry turret and that means that even when penetrated, it is not likely that the ammunition will explode, causing the destruction of the tank and death of the survived crewmen.
The tracks of the Merkava Mk. IV are redesigned and are just adapted for the rough terrain of Lebanon and Golan heights and that makes this tank perfect for the theatre of operations where it is deployed.
Finally, the latest versions of Merkava Mk.IV are equipped with the Trophy APS and that provides even greater protection. The new APS named Trench Coat is also under development.
Nowadays there are some 360 Merkava Mk. IV’s within the ranks of IDF and additional 300 have been ordered.
Length: 9.04m with muzzle, 7.60m without it
Engine: GD883 V12 Diesel with 1500hp
Armament: 1 x 120mm smoothbore MG253 tank gun (LAHAT capable), 1 x 12.7mm MG, 2 x 7.62mm MG, 1 x 60mm mortar