MBT "Merkava Mk 3". Photo by Israeli Ministry of Defense
The Israel Defense Forces are known for their thrifty and economical approach to armored vehicles. To cut costs, it is rebuilding outdated and unnecessary Tanks into armored vehicles for other purposes. Several years ago, it became known about another project of this kind called “Ofek”. It provided for the use of old Merkava main tanks and the production of heavy armored platforms and equipment based on them.
Judging by the known data, the Ofek (Horizon) platform project was developed in the first half of the 2s. At that time, the IDF planned to decommission the obsolete Merkava tanks of the Mk 3 and Mk XNUMX models, but did not intend to dispose of them. In this regard, the possibility of converting unnecessary MBTs into equipment of other classes, primarily into heavy and well-protected armored personnel carriers, was explored.
Like other Israeli products, Ofek was developed in secret. The existence of the project became known only in 2015, when one of the vehicles of this type participated in practical army events and was featured in a report. Only a few years later the new model was officially presented at one of the exhibitions.
Over the next few years, various details became clearer. Thus, it became known that Ofek could be built on the basis of tanks of at least two models. In addition, information has appeared about the development of four modifications for different purposes, differing in target equipment. Based on the heavy platform, the Ofek Pikud command and staff vehicle, a medical transport, a protected vehicle, and a PEREG repair and recovery vehicle were built.
One of the early examples of the Ofek machine. Photo: Bukvoed.livejournal.com
To date, KShM and ARVs have been brought to production and deployment among the troops. The ambulance armored vehicle and multi-purpose transport have not yet reached the troops, or the start of their deployment has not yet been announced.
A characteristic feature of the Ofek project is the absence of large-scale production. Vehicles of this family are produced in small batches to equip specific parts and units. There are no plans for mass release. This is probably due to the specific role of the vehicles produced - the IDF simply does not need large quantities of them.
Platform and modifications
The goal of the Ofek project was to rework older models of Merkava tanks planned for decommissioning to continue operation. The use of such a base determined the appearance of the future platform and its main characteristics. In addition, this factor should have affected the maximum production volumes of new equipment.
According to known data, a number of experimental and, probably, production Ofek armored vehicles were made on the basis of the older Merkava Mk 2 tank. However, the remaining products of the new family are built on the basis of the Mk 3 MBT modification, which has some technical differences and improved characteristics. At the same time, it can be assumed that the replacement of the base chassis occurred precisely because of technical parameters, and not due to the limited number of available MBTs for conversion.
The tank is converted into a multi-purpose platform in the usual way. The Merkava is deprived of its turret and all equipment of the fighting compartment. An armored cabin of large area and sufficient height is located on the roof, increasing the available internal volumes. The resulting compartment, in place of the former fighting compartment, can contain workplaces for various purposes or cargo. Access to the vehicle is provided by hatches in the cabin roof and in the rear of the hull.
KShM "Ofek Pikud". Photo: Bukvoed.livejournal.com
The tank chassis used has projectile-proof armor in the frontal projection. Also, the front-engine layout provides additional protection and another advantage. The level of protection for the cutting is unknown. It probably matches the body. Ofek can also be equipped with mounted modules, an active protection complex, etc.
The combat weight of the platform, itself or with additional equipment, does not exceed the parameters of the original tank. At the same time, the preserved power plant and the same chassis make it possible to obtain the same characteristics of mobility and maneuverability. As a result, all versions of the Ofek can move and work in the same formations with MBTs and other equipment.
Various modifications of the Ofek machine are carried out by placing the necessary units and devices in a protected volume and outside the housing. An exception is the logistics armored vehicle, in which the maximum volume of the hull is freed up and given over to cargo.
The Ofek Pikud command and staff vehicle accommodates workplaces for commanders and operators with computer equipment, communication devices, etc. It can be distinguished by the large number of antennas on the wheelhouse. Such a KShM is intended for use at the level of a ground battalion or higher, and the composition of the electronic equipment corresponds to the tasks being solved. It is reported to use state-of-the-art equipment to meet the requirements of the planned modernization of the army's control loops.
Command and staff vehicle during exercises. Photo: Bukvoed.livejournal.com
The sanitary modification accommodates stretchers and places for their transportation, a place for an orderly and cabinets with first aid equipment. The technical assistance vehicle “PEREG” also has targeted equipment inside the body, and also carries equipment outside it. In particular, there is a winch and a crane with a lifting capacity of 2,5 tons.
Technology in service
No later than the middle of the last decade, Israeli specialized enterprises began rebuilding the Merkava tanks being removed from service according to the new Ofek project. First of all, new CVMs were built on such a platform. Over time, these vehicles ended up in a large number of IDF units and replaced outdated analogues on other chassis, incl. with a lower level of protection.
In 2021, activities began to introduce ARVs on a unified chassis. Such equipment will eventually enter the repair companies of all large tank and motorized infantry formations. Details about the production and deployment of other modifications of Ofek are not yet available.
Since the mid-2015s, Ofek products have been used in various practical activities. In particular, the first known photographs of the vehicle from XNUMX were taken during the exercise. It is known that in the future the equipment was regularly involved both in training and in real operations.
Transportation of equipment somewhere in Israel, October 2023. Photo "RG / Russian weapon"
The IDF is currently conducting a major operation against Hamas and is preparing a ground offensive. The latter will use various armored vehicles, including vehicles of the Ofek family. Recently, an interesting video appeared on foreign resources, filmed on one of the Israeli roads. An unknown operator filmed the transportation of several Merkava tanks and Ofek CVMs on tank carriers.
Detailed information about the service and use of armored vehicles on the Ofek platform is not yet available. It can be assumed that the technical appearance of this equipment fully meets the operator’s requirements, and it solves the assigned tasks. However, modern armored vehicles, like other means, did not allow timely detection, suppression or repulsion of an attack by Palestinian militants.
Thus, the IDF continues to develop and update its fleet of armored vehicles. Attention is paid to both combat and auxiliary vehicles, and it is in the second category that the project of the Ofek family of vehicles belongs. At least two members of this family have reached production and military service, and more are expected.
It is curious that the new Ofek project once again uses the proven and time-tested idea of rebuilding unnecessary tanks into equipment of a different class. This method has long shown its potential and positive features, and they are not going to abandon it. At the same time, the IDF now has the opportunity to determine whether this approach meets today's challenges.