In the September issue of the German magazine Strategie und Technik for 2009, the article 30 Jahre Kampfpanzer Merkava was published (“30 years of the Merkava tank”). Its author, Rolf Hilmes, was an associate professor at the Bundeswehr Academy at that time and was in charge of the “Combat Complex of the Country” theme. Having solid experience in the study and operation of armored combat vehicles, the Academy Associate Professor reviewed the main projects of the Israeli tank construction and made some conclusions that can be relevant now - almost 10 years after the publication of his article.
Evaluating the Merkava program as a whole, R. Hilmes first of all wrote that the stages of its development perfectly illustrate the growth rates of the defense industry of Israel over several decades. In the early eighties, the tank model Mk 1 did not meet the level of world leaders, but in the next decade the machine Mk 3 went into the series, quite capable of arguing with leading foreign models. A few years later, the release of the Merkava of the Mk 4 type began, as a result of which superiority was noted in certain areas.
The authors of the Merkava projects have always tried to use the most advanced technologies, but this, according to a German expert, was not the main goal. The main task of the projects was still to obtain high combat and operational qualities. In addition, the design took into account the experience of recent armed conflicts. Finally, the most important task was to ensure the survival of the crew in the most severe conditions.
At the stage of determining technical requirements for the future main tank, the IDF experts put vitality at the forefront. In the development of all components of the project should receive maximum resistance to various threats and the safety of the crew. At the same time - due to the presence of some specific factors - it was possible to sacrifice the deterioration of some characteristics. For example, there were no severe restrictions on the mass, which was due to the peculiarities of the Israeli landscape and the size of the country.
The finished appearance of a promising tank, determined by the mid-seventies, had a number of characteristic features that distinguished it from other combat vehicles of a later time. In the future, similar design features were refined and improved, but it was not planned to abandon them. As a result, the Merkava tanks of the Mk 1 and Mk 4 models, despite the most serious differences, are very similar to each other.
The main features of the Israeli tanks are well known. For example, the 30 Jahre Kampfpanzer Merkava article outlined them as follows. First of all, R. Hilmes noted that a large number of nodes and assemblies, performing their basic functions, is also used as an additional protection of habitable compartments. First of all, this was manifested in the placement of the power plant in front of the crew. In addition, such an arrangement left the aft compartment free, in which it was possible to provide a manhole for emergency leaving the tank or for evacuating the tank crews from a wrecked car. In the stern there are potentially dangerous flammable liquids: fuel and oil.
The tank received a pointed frontal armor of the tower with reliable ballistic protection. The side elements of the turret are made in the form of armored boxes in which various property or machine gun ammunition can be transported. At the stern of the tower, during one of the upgrades, an additional basket was placed, increasing the tank's resistance to cumulative ammunition. It was supplemented with a special screen in the form of hanging chains with weights. Ammunition guns located in the fighting compartment of the case, in its stern. Shells are stored in fireproof containers.
The original concept of the main tank, built around maximum survivability and crew protection, was embodied in the metal in 1974 year. Over the next few years, the Merkava Mk 1 prototype machines underwent various tests and showed their real capabilities in all conditions. As required, some modifications of the design were carried out aimed at obtaining the desired characteristics. After completing the tests, the tank was recommended for adoption. His service officially began in 1979.
Already in 1983, a new version of the tank appeared - the Mk 2. Taking into account the experience of operating serial tanks of the first model and the results of the collisions during the Lebanese 1982 war, the existing structure was improved. Overhead of existing armor installed overhead panels. The tower was equipped with external baskets with anti-cumulative screens. The standard 60-mm mortar was removed inside the crew compartment, reducing the risks for the crew.
In 1990, the serial production of the Mk 3 MBT Merkava started. First of all, it differed from its predecessors 120-mm smooth-bore gun and engine of greater power. However, the most interesting in this project was hinged protection. As before, it was proposed to install special modules of appropriate shapes and sizes over our own armor.
"Merkava" Mk 4 - the newest and most perfect representative of the family. Photo AOI / flickr.com/photos/idfonline
It is curious that the Israeli industry still does not reveal the secrets of the modules of the third Merkava. Officially, it was only reported that such devices have a body in the form of an armored box, inside of which there is a classified content. Apparently, we are talking about some kind of combined multilayer barrier based on steel and other materials. Subsequently, the mounted modules were refined several times with an increase in the basic characteristics.
An important innovation of the project Mk 3 has become a warning system for laser irradiation. The LWS-2 product included three wide-angle sensors that fixed the laser beam from the enemy's equipment and a control panel. With the help of sensors, the Merkava crew could timely learn about the impending attack of the enemy and take action. The warning system significantly reduced the likelihood of successful shelling from tank guns or using guided missiles.
In the 2004, the Merkava Mk 4 tank was developed, taking into account the experience of using all three previous machines. The result of the development and improvement of existing ideas was the most serious reinforcement of the reservation, and in addition, a noticeable change in the appearance of the tank. The next version of mounted booking modules, providing improved protection against major threats, was markedly different from its predecessors. Strengthening the protection led to the abandonment of the driver's own hatch, because it weakened the upper front part of the hull and also completely blocked the front parts of the tower. Also had to use the updated hatches of other crew members and move some elements of the fire control system. From a certain time, the Mk 4 tanks are equipped with the Meil Ruach active protection complex.
The evolution of the tank "Merkva", you can compare the change in the exterior of equipment with the development of protective equipment. Figure Btvt.info
A new increase in survivability entailed an increase in combat mass and led to the need to replace the power plant. The 70-ton tank had to be equipped with the new HP 1500 engine. As before, the engine and transmission were placed in the front of the case, serving as additional protection for the frontal projection. Provided for the use of new 120-mm gun with enhanced performance. The means of storage and supply of ammunition were also refined. As before, measures were introduced to reduce the risks for the crew.
As you can see, over the past decades, the basic concept of the Israeli MBT Merkava has not undergone any noticeable changes. The main goal of projects has always been to ensure the highest possible level of protection against all relevant threats. The tank model Mk 1 had protection against tank shells, then it was supplemented with anti-cumulative means, and by now in this area, allegedly, outstanding results have been obtained.
Like many other tanks, the Israeli Merkava became the basis for several samples of military equipment for other purposes. Remarkable is the fact that the basic concept of the basic project allowed us to build new cars without major alterations to the tank chassis. However, not all such samples of combat and auxiliary equipment could reach mass production.
Crew protection requirements led to the placement of the power plant in the front of the hull with the release of the stern. Such an arrangement is not traditional for tanks, but may be useful in projects for other equipment. So, in the mid-eighties, the Soltam company developed the Sholef self-propelled artillery. She carried a 155-mm rifled gun in a swing turret. The latter was placed on the modified seat of the roof of a standard tank corps. Balancing the finished sample was acceptable. Thus, on the basis of an unusual tank chassis, it was possible to create an ACS of its usual appearance.
A sufficiently large volume in the center and rear of the hull, which is released when the fighting compartment is removed, is also used in the project of the Heavy armored personnel carrier Namer. In his case, the chassis of the tank "Merkava" Mk 4 is complemented by a new roof, and in the free volume are placed seats for nine paratroopers. It is alleged that in terms of protection of the crew and the landing, such an armored personnel carrier corresponds to the base MBT. Thus, the developments on the survivability of tanks could be applied in the interests of the infantry.
In the free compartment, covered with armor and engine, you can also install equipment to work with damaged armored vehicles. This possibility was used in the project of the Nemmera armored repair and recovery vehicle. At the site of the former fighting compartment, a winch and a crane with a swinging boom are installed. Also on board such a BREM there are tools for servicing or repairing combat vehicles in a field setting. In the past, it was pointed out that the maximum unification of the tank chassis of the old models will allow to rebuild the withdrawn tanks of the old models into repair and evacuation vehicles.
Armored repair and recovery vehicle "Nemmera" on the chassis "Merkavy". Photo by Iweapons.com
Since the creation of the first tank line "Merkava" more than 40 years passed. During this time, the Israeli industry managed to create four versions of the tank and several other machines based on them. As a result, the army received thousands of units of combat and auxiliary equipment, increasing its combat capability accordingly. Having certain problems of one kind or another, tanks and other IDF vehicles, in general, show themselves well on the battlefield. The achievement of such results is facilitated by the constant refinement of technology, taking into account the constantly expanding operating experience and combat use.
It is impossible not to notice that, despite all the changes and improvements, the basic concept of the Merkava tank has not changed since the development of the very first project. The idea of ensuring maximum protection of habitable compartments, by the standards of that time, was successfully solved already in the first projects of the family. In the future, it was possible to significantly increase the level of protection with the help of various integrated and mounted tools. At the same time, the charge for such an increase in characteristics turned out to be acceptable and did not have a serious impact on other parameters.
Also a curious consequence of the applied concept and methods of its implementation was the possibility of using the chassis in new projects without a radical processing of its design. Not all such projects were able to bring to the series, but the army still received new combat and auxiliary vehicles, unified with the tanks. This unification gave immediately two positive results: it simplified the joint operation of different samples, and also brought their protection to the same level.
Since its inception, the Israeli main battle tanks, the Merkava, have faced the most serious threats, taking damage or sustaining casualties. Nevertheless, the designers tank builders took into account the experience of collisions with the enemy and offered new ideas for improving armored vehicles. As a result, four OBT models came into service, the characteristics of which gradually grew and reached a fairly high level. The “Merkava” family remains in service for almost 40 years and becomes the basis for a new technology for one purpose or another. The Israel Defense Forces are not going to abandon such equipment and are probably already working on the next version of the tank. Such an attitude on the part of the main and only customer can be considered almost the best argument in favor of the original concept from the mid-seventies.