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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

Israel’s Merkava tank designed for upcoming fight with Hamas

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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To be successful, any ground invasion into Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will need to include armored vehicles and tanks. The armored chariot of choice for the IDF is the Merkava Mk4 main battle tank.

The Merkava is a battle proven system. It was designed and tailored to meet Israel’s specific warfighting needs. In Gaza, that means urban warfare in one of the most densely populated places on the planet; where snipers, drones, mines, IEDs, RPGs and other threats lurk around every corner.

The Merkava, maybe more than any other tank in the world, is built with crew survivability in mind. The 1500 horsepower, V-12 diesel engine is in the front of the tank. Most western tanks have the engine in the back. The forward location adds another layer of protection between the Merkava’s four-man crew and incoming projectiles.

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The underside of the tank is designed to counter mines and IEDs. The tank’s hull is covered with modular armor that can be quickly replaced if damaged.

Israel also incorporated Rafael’s Trophy Active Protection System into the design. The Trophy system provides 360-degree protection against anti-tank rockets, missiles and high-explosive rounds from enemy tanks.

Merkavas are designed to keep their crews alive, but they aren’t invincible. When Hamas launched its Oct. 7 attacks, videos quickly began circulating of a drone successfully disabling a Merkava. A few days later, and many of the Merkavas that massed along the Israel-Gaza border started featuring “cope cages” to counter attacks from above.

In terms of offensive capabilities, the Merkava features a 120mm smooth bore main gun that fires all the standard NATO munitions and can also send LAHAT anti-tank missiles down range. There’s a remote-operated 7.62mm machine gun mounted to the Merkava’s turret as well, and some internal 60mm mortar launchers just for good measure.

The Merkava’s unique front engine design created enough space inside the rear of the tank that it can haul extra ammo, equipment, or three to four additional soldiers into battle. Of course, the extra space can also be used to safely transfer wounded soldiers out as well.

Most of the tank’s crew gains access through a clamshell-style rear entrance. This also provides a safer escape route if the tank is disabled. The tank’s commander gains access through a single hatch on top of the turret.

Like most tanks, the Merkava has some sight limitations when the crew needs to button up the hatches and go inside. To help get around this problem, the Merkava uses Elbit’s C4I systems to display real-time, day or night video feeds of what’s happening outside the tank.

The newest version of the Merkava, called the Barak or “Lightning” in Hebrew, takes this concept of real-time display to the next level. Using a system called Iron Vision, specially designed helmets give tank commanders an external view of the tank so clear it’s been described like looking through glass.

The Merkava Baraks also use AI in their targeting sensors to help its crew look, lock and launch faster.

If an enemy does manage to get a shot off at a Barak, its internal sensors can find the attack’s point of origin and adjust the tanks turret, while also relaying target info to nearby allied assets. This makes it that much easier to engage and eliminate enemy threats.

The IDF just took possession of its first batch of Merkava Baraks in September. According to reporting from Defense News, the IDF’s Armored Corps said a pair of Baraks can carry out the tasks for a combined force that previously required a platoon or whole company’s worth of Merkava Mk4 tanks to complete.

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TO BE SUCCESSFUL, ANY GROUND INVASION INTO GAZA BY ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES WILL NEED TO INCLUDE ARMORED VEHICLES AND TANKS. THE ARMORED CHARIOT OF CHOICE FOR THE IDF IS THE MERKAVA MARK 4 MAIN BATTLE TANK.

THE MERKAVA IS A BATTLE PROVEN SYSTEM.IT WAS DESIGNED AND TAILORED TO MEET ISRAEL’S SPECIFIC WARFIGHTING NEEDS. IN GAZA, THAT MEANS URBAN WARFARE IN ONE OF THE MOST DENSELY POPULATED PLACES ON THE PLANET; WHERE SNIPERS, DRONES, MINES, IED’S, RPGS AND OTHER THREATS LURK AROUND EVERY CORNER.

THE MERKAVA, MAYBE MORE THAN ANY OTHER TANK IN THE WORLD, IS BUILT WITH CREW SURVIVABILITY IN MIND. THE 1500 HORSE-POWER, V-12 DIESEL ENGINE IS IN THE FRONT OF THE TANK. MOST WESTERN TANKS HAVE THE ENGINE IN THE BACK. THE FORWARD LOCATION ADDS ANOTHER LAYER OF PROTECTION BETWEEN THE MERKAVA’S FOUR-MAN CREW AND INCOMING PROJECTILES.

THE UNDERSIDE OF THE TANK IS DESIGNED TO COUNTER MINES AND IEDs. THE TANK’S HULL IS COVERED WITH MODULAR ARMOR THAT CAN BE QUICKLY REPLACED IF DAMAGED. ISRAEL ALSO INCORPORATED RAFAEL’S TROPHY ACTIVE PROTECTION SYSTEM INTO THE DESIGN. THE TROPHY SYSTEM PROVIDES 360 DEGREE PROTECTION AGAINST ANTI-TANK ROCKETS, MISSILES AND HIGH-EXPLOSIVE ROUNDS FROM ENEMY TANKS.

MERKAVAS ARE DESIGNED TO KEEP THEIR CREWS ALIVE, BUT THEY AREN’T INVINCIBLE. WHEN HAMAS LAUNCHED ITS OCTOBER 7TH ATTACKS, VIDEOS QUICKLY BEGAN CIRCULATING OF A DRONE SUCCESSFULLY DISABLING A MERKAVA. A FEW DAYS LATER, AND MANY OF THE MERKAVAS THAT MASSED ALONG THE ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER STARTED FEATURING COPE CAGES TO COUNTER ATTACKS FROM ABOVE.

IN TERMS OF OFFENSIVE CAPABILITIES, THE MERKAVA FEATURES A 120MM SMOOTH BORE MAIN GUN THAT FIRES ALL THE STANDARD NATO MUNITIONS, AND CAN ALSO SEND LAHAT ANTI-TANK MISSILES DOWN RANGE. THERE’S A REMOTE-OPERATED 7.62MM MACHINE GUN MOUNTED TO THE MERKAVA’S TURRET AS WELL, AND SOME INTERNAL 60MM MORTAR LAUNCHERS JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE.

THE MERKAVA’S UNIQUE ENGINE-IN-THE-FRONT DESIGN CREATED ENOUGH SPACE INSIDE THE REAR OF THE TANK THAT IT CAN HAUL EXTRA AMMO, EQUIPMENT, OR 3-4 ADDITIONAL SOLDIERS INTO BATTLE. OF COURSE, THE EXTRA SPACE CAN ALSO BE USED TO SAFELY TRANSFER WOUNDED SOLDIERS OUT AS WELL.

MOST OF THE TANK’S CREW GAINS ACCESS THROUGH A CLAMSHELL-STYLE REAR ENTRANCE–WHICH IS ALSO A SAFER ESCAPE ROUTE IF THE TANK IS DISABLED. THE TANK’S COMMANDER GAINS ACCESS THROUGH A SINGLE HATCH ON TOP OF THE TURRET.
LIKE MOST TANKS, THE MERKAVA HAS SOME SIGHT LIMITATIONS WHEN THE CREW NEEDS TO BUTTON UP THE HATCHES AND GO INSIDE. TO HELP GET AROUND THIS PROBLEM, THE MERKAVA USES ELBITS C4I SYSTEMS TO DISPLAY REAL-TIME, DAY OR NIGHT VIDEO FEEDS OF WHAT’S HAPPENING OUTSIDE THE TANK.

THE NEWEST VERSION OF THE MERKAVA, CALLED THE BARAK OR LIGHTNING IN HEBREW, TAKES THIS CONCEPT OF REAL-TIME DISPLAY TO THE NEXT LEVEL.

USING A SYSTEM CALLED IRON VISION, SPECIALLY DESIGNED HELMETS GIVE TANK COMMANDERS AN EXTERNAL VIEW OF THE TANK SO CLEAR IT’S BEEN DESCRIBED LIKE LOOKING THROUGH GLASS. THE MERKAVA BARAKS ALSO USE AI IN THEIR TARGETING SENSORS TO HELP MERKAVA CREWS LOOK, LOCK AND LAUNCH FASTER.

IF AN ENEMY DOES MANAGE TO GET A SHOT OFF AT A BARAK, ITS INTERNAL SENSORS CAN FIND THE ATTACK’S POINT OF ORIGIN AND ADJUST THE TANKS TURRET, WHILE ALSO RELAYING TARGET INFO TO NEARBY ALLIED ASSETS. THIS MAKES IT THAT MUCH EASIER TO ENGAGE AND ELIMINATE ENEMY THREATS.

THE IDF JUST TOOK POSSESSION OF ITS FIRST BATCH OF MERKAVA BARAKS IN SEPTEMBER. ACCORDING TO THE IDF’S ARMORED CORPS, A PAIR OF BARAK TANKS CAN CARRY OUT THE TASKS FOR A COMBINED FORCE THAT PREVIOUSLY REQUIRED A PLATOON OR WHOLE COMPANY’S WORTH OF MERKAVA TANKS TO COMPLETE.