“The Israeli Defense Ministry decided not to continue the work on the creation of the Merkava Mark V tank, and at this stage the Merkava Mark IV will remain the last tank, the production of which will be continued.” This message caused the effect of a bombshell in the tank world - after all, the Merkava tank, which embodied the newest ideas and technologies of tank construction, was recognized by authoritative experts as one of the best, if not the best, main battle tank in the world.
Although the formal reason for the cessation of work on the creation of the fifth-generation Merkava tank was officially called the reduction of project funding, in fact, this is a real revolution in tank design and the very concept of tanks in modern warfare.
The role of tanks in modern war today is undergoing a cardinal revaluation. Anti-tank defense is becoming more efficient and cheaper, and in the eternal dispute between armor and projectile a third party has now appeared - means of active protection of armored vehicles. And, it seems, they can put an end to the tank stories.
The history of five generations of the main battle tank "Merkava" reflects the evolution of ideas about the role of the tank in a modern war.
General and his tank
Israeli General Israel Tal (1924 — 2010) entered the history of tank forces not only as the winner of tank battles, but also as the creator of the main battle tank Merkava, which made a real revolution in the tank world.
Israel Tal was born in Palestine in 1924, in the Galilean village of Mahanaim, in a family whose roots come from the Polish Hasidim who settled in the cities of Safed and Tiberias in 1777. At the age of five, he miraculously survived when the Arabs set fire to the house where he lived with his mother and younger sister. From childhood, Israel knew hard work - as a boy, he began working in a village forge.
Israel Tal, 1970 year.
In the 15 years he became a fighter of the Jewish illegal army of Hagan. In 1942, at the age of seventeen, Israel Tal volunteered for the British Army. He fought against the Nazis in Libya, participated in the landing of the Allies in Italy in the ranks of the Jewish Brigade and reached the Rhineland in Germany. After the war, he joined the Avengers military organization, which was engaged in the search and liquidation of the Nazis, whose hands were in Jewish blood.
Started in the 1948 year of the War of Independence, Israel Tal met in the ranks of the IDF - he began serving as an instructor-machine-gunner, and then quickly climbed the commanding steps. After graduating from the military academy in the UK, in 1955, Tal took command of the 10 Infantry Brigade, at the head of which he fought in the Sinai campaign of the 1956.
In 1959, the appointment of Colonel Tal to the post of commander of the 7 Armored Brigade took place, permanently linking Israel Tal with the tank forces.
In 1964, General Israel Tal became the deputy commander of tank forces. As an experienced tanker, he understood that in the conditions of the repeated numerical superiority of the enemy in tanks, only excellent crew training would give a chance to survive and win.
Based on combat experience, he developed completely new tactical techniques for conducting tank war. Tal paid special attention to firing training of tank crews, becoming a true innovator in the introduction of tank guns of tank sniper fire to long and long distances - up to 5 — 6 kilometers and even 10 — 11 kilometers.
This gave a significant advantage in battle - the enemy fought on Soviet tank regulations and instructions, which ordered to open aimed fire only at a distance of 1,5 km. So that Israeli tankers, opening fire from long distances, destroyed enemy tanks even before they reached the line of discovery.
General Tal fundamentally reviewed the entire system of combat training of tankers: the gunner of a tank gun became the central figure in the crews, and the entire crew had to work on the gunner and defeat his targets.
The battle was tested by new tactics during the Battle for Water in 1964 — 1966. Then Syria tried to divert the water of the Jordan River and thereby deprive Israel of its water resources. The Syrians began to build a branch canal, which Israel could not allow. It was decided to destroy the earthmoving equipment, tanks and artillery batteries of the enemy, covering the construction with fire of tank guns.
For this purpose, the Israeli command staffed tank units with trained crews. In accordance with the principle “Do as I do” taken from the commanders of the Israeli army, General Tal took the place of a gunner in one of the tanks. The commander of his tank was the battalion commander, and the commander of the tank brigade Colonel S. Lahat became the loader.
In the course of tank duels by sniper fire of Israeli tank crews, all targets were destroyed at a distance of 6 km, and then the tank fire was moved to targets that were at a distance of 11 km.
The Syrians suffered heavy losses and were forced to completely abandon their plans to divert water.
In the Six-Day War, Major General Tal commanded the Steel (84 armored) division. His tankers broke through the front in the Gaza area and, with heavy fighting attacking through the Sinai desert, three days later reached the shore of the Suez Canal.
The Doomsday War, which began on October 6 of 1973, was another challenge for the Israeli tank forces - the largest tank battle in world history unfolded in the world from Sinai to the Golan Heights, in which both sides fought to 7 thousands of tanks.
General Tal took command of the Southern Front. There, in the Sinai desert, up to four thousand tanks came together. In the Egyptian offensive, which began on October 14, more than a thousand tanks and two hundred armored personnel carriers with infantry were involved.
The advancing Egyptian troops were attacked by Israeli tank divisions, which included up to 700 tanks. In the ensuing largest tank battle since the Second World Tank Battle, General Tal's tankers inflicted a heavy defeat on the enemy - more than 250 Egyptian tanks were destroyed, Israeli losses amounted to 40 tanks.
The 143, 162 and 252 Israeli tank divisions launched a counteroffensive, during which the 3 and 2 Egyptian armies were surrounded and destroyed, the Israeli forces forced the Suez Canal. In the battles at Sinai, the son of General Tal, the commander of a tank company, Captain Yair Tal, was seriously wounded.
Analyzing the results of the tank battles of the Sinai Campaign and the Six-Day War, Israel concluded that it was necessary to create their own tank.
There was simply no other choice: before the Six-Day War, the IDF tank forces were equipped with the American tanks M48 and M60 and the British Centurions, but the United States imposed a ban on arms supplies to Israel, and the United Kingdom was pro-Arab and could veto purchases tanks and spare parts for them.
The Arabs were in a different situation: the USSR supplied thousands of its modern tanks to the Arabs free of charge, while guaranteeing the replacement of all the bat equipment.
When creating his tank, General Tal was guided not only by technical improvements. He put forward a completely new conceptual ideas of the tank. The main emphasis, along with firepower and maneuverability, was placed on maximum protection of crew members (even if the tank was completely disabled, but the crew must survive) and on the maintainability of the tank (even after serious damage the tank should be quickly restored and go into battle again) .
Tank Merkava in East Beirut, 1982 year. Photo: AP
The Israeli tank is fundamentally different in layout from all the combat vehicles built according to the classical scheme first used on the French Reno FT-17 tank of the 1916 model of the year: in front of the control compartment, in the middle - in combat, in the rear - engine-transmission compartment.
General Tal completely refused to follow the tank traditions and proposed a completely new scheme of the combat vehicle.
1. The Israeli tank engine compartment is located in front of the machine, being an additional protection of the crew against anti-tank weapons - in the frontal projection of the tank, according to statistics, most of the shells fall.
2. “A tank is the crew’s home in wartime.” Tankers can not get out of battle for several days, experiencing severe overload from fatigue and nervous exhaustion. Therefore, Tal proposed the concept of round-the-clock use of a tank, for which the fighting compartment must be large and accommodate two crews - one is resting, the second is at war, or it can be used to transport a tank landing.
In order for even a wounded tankman to leave the wrecked car, the landing hatch must be large and located at the rear of the tank.
A fire in a padded tank leads to the death of the crew, so the fire extinguishing system must be reusable, because during the battle the tank may have multiple hits.
3. Statistics showed that in the event of a detonation of ammunition and fuel, the crew perishes completely. Therefore, the combat compartment should be separated from the fuel tanks and ammunition with armor, and the ammunition assembly should be placed in a separate container and automatically shoot out from the tank if it is defeated by anti-tank weapons. Fuel tanks should be in the aft part of the tank, in the zone of the least likely damage from anti-tank weapons.
4. The tank must have a modular design - by replacing the modules, a wrecked tank can be quickly restored on the battlefield. In addition, the modernization of the tank can be easily implemented by replacing outdated modules with more advanced ones.
All these ideas were revolutionary for tank building and completely changed the traditional ideas about the role and place of the tank in modern combat.
The tank creation program was approved in August 1970, and a group of all 35 tank officers under the leadership of General Tahl began to develop a new tank.
This is how the Israeli tank industry was created, today more than 200 Israeli industrial companies that produce most of the tank's components - from armored steel and artillery to ultra-precise electronic and computer equipment - are participating in the project.
The implementation of the ideas of General Tal led to the creation of a large, heavy (tank weight 63 tons) machines with powerful armor protection in front of the tank and a spacious fighting compartment. The fighting compartment can be used to transport troops and property, as well as to ensure the evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield.
General Tal gave his tank the name "Merkava", which in Hebrew means "War chariot". This word came from the TANAKH; it is mentioned in the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel as a symbol of movement, power and a stable foundation.
The first rumors that Israel was developing its tank began to spread in the 1972 year. In the spring of 1977, Israeli television showed a new tank, after which pictures taken from the TV screen went around the pages of many military publications.
Then there was information that the production of a pre-production batch of 40 machines began; in October 1978, the first tank "Merkava" was officially transferred to the troops. The command of one of the first battalions manned by the Merkavami was received by the son of General Tal.
The official presentation of the tank took place during the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the tank factory of the Israeli military-industrial corporation Israel Military Industries.
Tank Merkava on the border with the Gaza Strip. Photo: Emilio Morenatti / AP, archive
Four generations of Merkava tanks have already left the conveyor lines of Israeli tank factories. Starting from 2005, the entire IDF tank fleet consists of domestic Merkava combat vehicles.
Today, almost all armored vehicles manufactured in different countries of the world are built on the basis of concepts that were first tested in the Merkava tank. The design of the most modern Russian tank "Armat" also implemented the ideas of the Israeli "tank guru".
What will be the "tank of the future"
The Arab Spring, which began a few years ago, led to the collapse of countries hostile to Israel. Today, the regular armies of Syria and Egypt are almost destroyed and thousands of tanks that were armed with them are no longer able to attack Israeli borders. The enemy is no longer able to wage the classic "symmetrical" war, like the Second World War, in which huge regular armies of the opposing countries participate. A tank was created for the conduct of such wars.
Today, the likelihood of an “asymmetric war” has sharply increased - the war of the regular army against terrorist groups. The enemy here manifests itself not at all unequivocally, often he is hiding among the civilian population sympathizing with terrorists. However, it can be armed with modern weaponwhich he is able to inflict heavy losses on the regular army.
An example of such a defeat of a regular army by terrorists is the storming of Grozny by Russian troops on New Year's Eve 1995 and the death of the Maikop Brigade, which then lost 189 people killed, captured and missing, 22 T-72 tank from 26-te, 102 BMP from 120-ti . The tanks were defenseless against the anti-tank weapons of terrorists acting contrary to the laws of "symmetrical" wars.
The rapid development of the destruction of armored vehicles called into question the prospects for the combat use of tanks and combat vehicles. Solving the problem of survivability of the tank and its crew by further increasing the thickness of the armor was impossible because of the fatal increase in the mass of the armored vehicle. Powerful armor has ceased to be the key to the vitality of modern armored vehicles.
The answer to the victory of the projectile in the battle of "armor - projectile" was the creation of Active Protection Systems (APS), who made a real revolution in the struggle for the survivability of tanks and their crews.
APS destroys or alters the flight paths of the missiles, shells and grenades that fly up to the tank. To solve these problems, various technical solutions are used, conventionally divided into Soft-kill and Hard-kill methods.
Soft-kill armored vehicles protection methods are designed to create false targets or change the flight path of flying ammunition. As a result, the flying ammunition goes “into the milk” without reaching the attacked armored vehicle.
Hard-kill armored vehicles protection methods imply an active influence on flying ammunition, their interception and destruction. The work of APS in this case is reduced to the detection of an attacking anti-tank projectile and shooting at the appropriate time with protective ammunition.
Detection of ammunition flying to the tank is performed by the onboard radar installed on the tank. In combat, the radar provides the search and detection of targets flying up to the tank. Information about the parameters of the movement of the target is transmitted to the on-board computer. The computer issues a command to start the protective ammunition. The whole process from detecting a flying ammunition to its destruction lies in the time range from milliseconds to seconds. The IDF became the first army in the world in which all the Merkava Mk4 serial tanks are equipped with Trophy active protection systems.
However, the development of active protection of tanks unexpectedly led to a seemingly paradoxical conclusion - if anti-tank missiles and projectiles no longer threaten armored vehicles, then the armor itself turns to nothing.
It turns out that any mobile platform equipped with active protection systems and devoid of heavy armor will be much easier, cheaper and faster than a traditional tank.
In the Israeli military, a special group of tank officers and engineers was created to define the principles for building a "tank of the future." Their task was to formulate conceptual ideas of a combat armored vehicle capable of providing mobile and powerful fire support on the battlefield.
The group faced the following questions:
1. Will the future tank be lighter than the current 70-tonne Merkava? After all, existing means of active protection of armored vehicles that destroy anti-tank missiles on approach allow you to safely abandon the thick multi-layered armor, which reduces the speed of the tank, as well as increases fuel costs and production costs.
2. What crew is needed to service the tank of the future. The development of computer systems and telecommunications allows us today to abandon a number of crew members and even make it completely “unmanned”.
3. In the tank of the future will use the traditional turret gun, or is it another system. “When we think about what the tank of the future should be, we need a broad view of all existing technologies,” said General Yigal Slovik, until recently commanding the IDF armored forces. - For example, electromagnetic and laser guns, which are now too large in size, and cannot be used. However, in the near future, such weapons will become a reality. ”
4. What a tank engine is needed. For example, a hybrid engine can be used as a power plant in a tank, which charges the batteries by burning the fuel and then uses them to keep the vehicle moving for a long time, and whether the “future tank” will be wheeled or remain tracked.
Israeli experts based on these polls came to this conclusion:
The tank of the future will be radically different from traditional tanks. It is doubtful even that it can be called a tank at all - it will be so different from the usual armored vehicles.