Armor: August 8, 2000


MERKAVA: PLUSSES AND MINUSES: The Israeli Merkava tank is of an entirely different design concept from all other tanks in service, having the engine mounted in the front and being designed for crew survivability first. The tank is under-powered, but designed for use on the rocky Golan Heights were low speed is more common than fast dashes. An analysis by US officers assigned as liaisons to the Israelis note the following:


@ It has modular armor, which is easily replaced when hit, and can be upgraded to keep tanks in service longer.

@ The roof-mounted 60mm mortar is a unique Israeli feature that no one else has been sensible enough to copy.

@ The laser warning receivers are very effective.

@ The suspension provides a stable firing platform and increased protection against chemical-energy weapons.

@ The unique space in the rear provides the ability to ferry infantry or carry parts of a battalion staff.

@ Merkava has a lower thermal signature than other tanks due to the way the exhaust from the front-mounted engine is ducted.

@ The gunner or tank commander can fire the coaxial machinegun at the same time as the main gun, or separately. Since the computer controls the main gun, firing both together may well result in the machinegun rounds falling short.

@ There is a television system to provide an improved view outside of a buttoned-up tank.

@ If the intercom fails, the tank commander can use switches to control lights in the driver's compartment, indicating if he should go right, left, reverse, faster, or slower.

@ The moving target indicator can enable the gun to hit a helicopter at 3000m 80% of the time (least, in the simulators).


@ Merkava is grossly underpowered. It accelerates slowly, even more so on inclines. The Merkava-IV, with its 1400hp German diesel, may approach the mobility of other tanks.

@ The Israelis selected electric turret rotation to enhance crew safety, but this came at a cost of a slow slew rate. It takes Merkava a full 12 seconds for 360-degree rotation, three times as long as the American Abrams. The hydraulic system on the Abrams, being newer technology, is equally safe. 

@ The 49 rounds of ammunition in the rear compartment cannot be carried if the compartment is used for infantry, as the racks must be removed to make space. These rounds cannot be moved to the turret unless the turret is rotated to dead ahead.

@ While the auto-tracking system is effective, Israeli tanks without it had often defeated Merkavas in gunner competitions, indicating that a well-drilled crew can achieve the same results as technology. --Stephen V Cole


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