May 28, 2000
Israeli officials and officers have objected to last year's survey which rated the Merkava-3 as inferior to the M1A1, Leclerc, and Leopard-2A5. These Israelis point out that:
@ The Merkava-3 is very maneuverable and agile, as it is designed to run at top speed over the basalt rocks and boulders of the Golan Heights.
@ The Israelis insist that their tank has as much horsepower at the sprocket (850hp) as others with more raw engine horsepower. (Merkava has a 1200hp engine while most Western tanks have 1500hp engines. The Israelis are working on a 1500hp engine able to fit the Merkava chassis.)
@ Its 120mm gun is as effective as any tank cannon in the world. The Israelis carry an anti-personnel round for this cannon (APAM) as well as the laser-guided LAHAT round. The cannon is stabilized and linked to the Baz (Hawk) auto-tracking system, which keeps the gun aimed at a moving target until the crew releases it. This system is particularly effective against helicopters, allowing Merkava to engage them with tank main gun rounds.
@ The commander is provided with independent optics, allowing hunter-killer tactics to be used.
@ The Israeli tank, unique in the world, has a 60mm mortar mounted on the turret roof to engage enemy infantry and provide smoke and illumination services.
@ The Israelis insist that the Merkava accelerates as well as any other diesel-powered tank (0-32km/hr in 10 seconds), and only the gas-guzzling turbine engine of the American M1 can pick up speed faster.
@ The protection provided by the Merkava to its crews is unrivaled. One Merkava in Lebanon was hit by no less than 20 guided heavy anti-tank missiles with only one penetration and only one crew casualty (and that man had his head exposed out of the hatch when killed). No Merkava crewman has EVER suffered a burn injury when his tank was hit by enemy weapons. Crewmen
in other types of tanks suffered severe burns 26% of the time their tanks were hit by enemy fire.
@ Merkava has modular armor, allowing new designs to be incorporated cheaply and quickly. Merkava-3s have already had their armor removed and improved three times.
@ Merkava-3 has a powerful air conditioning system able to keep the crew comfortable in desert conditions. Other tank crews in European weather conditions have to wear bulky vests fitted with tubes circulating coolant to stay cool.
@ Merkava's engine-front design leaves a large compartment at the rear. This can carry extra ammunition or infantry, or provide space for a crewmen to lay down and rest. More importantly, every tank has connections in this compartment for radios, and a battalion commander can set up shop in the rear compartment of any tank, plugging in the extra radios he needs. This eliminates the need for special command vehicles that can be identified as such.
The new Merkava-4 will have a 1500hp engine, the same 120mm cannon (but with a new thermal sleeve), and a cannon recoil system based on compressed gas instead of springs. --Stephen V Cole