February 23, 2012:
Israel announced that it has suspended production of its Merkava (Chariot) 4 tank and Nemer (Tiger) APC (armored personnel carrier). This is considered a ploy by the military to get more money out of the government. But there are other reasons to believe the production halt is real, like the lack of export customers and the need for training funds.
For over a year now Israel has been trying to find export customers for Merkava and Nemer (or Namer). Only nations that could be trusted to not use these vehicles against Israel were pitched. The tank costs about $4 million, the APC about half that. There have been no takers. The Israeli military needs money for training more than they need more new armored vehicles. But that debate rarely gets much publicity. Israel already has a powerful armored vehicle force and plenty of anti-tank weapons.
The Merkava 4 entered production in 2001, and entered service in 2004. It is the latest version of the Merkava line. The Merkava 4 is a 65 ton vehicle, with the engine mounted in front of the turret and a compartment in the rear of the tank that can hold eight troops or three casualties on stretchers. The tank carries 48 rounds for its 120mm gun, with ten of them in a quick loading carousel. The crew of four operates the main gun, plus a 12.7mm machine-gun, two 7.62mm machine-guns, and a 60 mm mortar for smoke shells. Some 320 Merkava 4s have been built so far, and another 300 are on order.
The Merkava line has been around since 1979, when the Merkava 1 entered service. The Merkava 2 followed in 1983, and the Merkava 3 in 1990. Improvements between different versions covered most aspects of the tank. The Merkava 3 has a 1,200 horsepower engine while the Merkava 4 has 1,500 horsepower. The Merkava 2 had a 900 horsepower engine and a 105mm gun, while the Merkava 3 got the current 120mm gun. Armor and fire control improved with each version although weight stayed stable (the Merkava 1 weighed 63 tons).
During the Summer of 2006, as Israeli tanks saw their first heavy combat in 24 years, the Merkava 4 saw its first combat. Actually, it was the first heavy combat for the Merkava 2 and Merkava 3 as well. In 1982, 180 Merkava 1s saw action during the war with Lebanon. Since then the Merkavas have only been used in peacekeeping and counter-terror operations with the Palestinians.
The Nemer APC is based on the chassis of older Merkava 1 and 2 series tanks that are being retired. Thus Nemer will have the thick armor of the Merkava. With the turret removed a remotely controlled (from inside the vehicle) heavy machine-gun can been added. The Merkava lends itself to this kind of modification because the engine is mounted in the front and there is already a door in the back of the vehicle. But based on tests, and the first experience in Gaza, troops prefer the Nemer.
The Nemer carries eleven people (a driver, gunner, vehicle commander, and eight infantry). The passenger compartment is also equipped with a stretcher that enables one casualty to be carried along with a full load of 11 troops. In addition to the remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-gun there is also a roof hatch on the left forward part of the vehicle, for the commander to use and also operate a 7.62mm machine-gun. The vehicle also has the Merkava battle management system, as well as four cameras providing 360 degree vision around the vehicle. The remotely controlled machine-gun has a night vision sight. The vehicle also has a toilet, an addition based on troop feedback (and many missions where they had to stay on board for up to 24 hours at a time in combat zones).
Fewer than a hundred Nemers have been built, and further production is stalled because of negotiations with American firms to get parts at a low enough price.