The Merkava tank is the main Israeli battle tank; there are four versions of the Merkava – Mark I, II, III and IV. The Merkava is designed for optimal crew survival and for fast repairs following damage in battle; the Merkava tanks incorporated composite armor, and the space between the inner and outer hulls were filled with diesel as a means of storage and for protection against High explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warheads.
Merkava have their turret assembly placed closer to the rear than most other main battle tanks and unlike most other tanks the engine is placed in the front; this also provides additional protection against frontal attacks as the engine creates a barrier between crew members and attacks.
Another advantage of this design is that there is more storage space in the rear of the tank and a rear entrance that allows crew members to easily access the tank even while under fire; the rear entrance also makes the Merkava an excellent ambulance vehicle as it is easier and safer to load and unload injured soldiers. The door opens upward so that it provides some overhead protection during the loading and unloading of cargo and personnel.
OLDER VERSIONS OF THE MERKAVA
Each installment of the Merkava improved on its predecessors; The Mark I weighed 63 tonnes, used a diesel engine and used a 105 mm M68 main gun, two 7.62 mm machine guns and a 60 mm mortar mounted externally. It was first used in the 1982 Lebanon War and thereafter adjustments were made to improve it and the design was modified; the most important modification was that the 60 mm mortar was installed within the hull and engineered for remote firing.
The Mark II incorporated several vital modifications to the Mark I and was used for urban warfare and low intensity conflicts since it was lightweight and lacked power; it used the same guns as the Mark I with the redesigned mortar, had increased fuel storage and anti-rocket netting was added for added protection against infantry anti-tank rockets.
In 1989 the Mark III brought major improvements to the Mark II’s drive train, power train and safety features; a new gun – the IMI 120 mm gun was added, along with a bigger engine and modifications to the turret.
THE MERKAVA MARK IV
The latest version of the Merkava has been in development since 1999 and has brought a lot of upgrades to the previous Merkava models; the Mark IV has an improved Efire-control system, better armor and a removable armor pack for the underside to make it better for urban combat. The Mark IV uses the same 120 mm main gun that was used on the Mark III but can also fire a wide variety of other ammunition; a new 12.7 mm machine gun has also been included in the Mark IV. The mortar is still included and is still located internally but has been improved on.
In 2006 it was decided that the Merkava line would be discontinued within four years but it was later decided that the tank could be improved to offer better protection so the decision to discontinue it was deferred.
Photo: IDF Spokesperson Unit.