Merkava Main Battle Tank

Last updated on February 19th, 2019 at 10:00 pm

The Merkava main battle tank was the first military tank produced in Israel and is Israel’s main battle tank.

Development of the Merkava began in 1967. The first prototype was finished in 1974 and production began in 1979.

The Merkava MBT first saw combat during the 1982 Lebanon War.

Survivability is the focus of the Merkava’s design. The Merkava main battle tank has an engine that is located at the front, rather than at the back of the tank.  This layout provides an additional layer of defense for the crew if the tank receives a penetrating hit from the front.
Merkava Mark 1 main battle tank
“Merkava” is the Hebrew word for chariot.  The name is associated with the idea that a chariot has its source of power (horses) at the front,  just as the Merkava has its power source as the fornt.

The Merkava’s fighting compartment and turret are in the back of the tank.  There is a set of doors in the rear of the fighting compartment. Ammunition can be loaded through the back doors and stored in the hull.  Infantry soldiers can also enter through the rear doors. They can then be carried in the hull.

Having doors at the back of the tank means that soldiers can escape from the tank, if necessary, without being seen by the enemy.

The Merkava has a four-person crew – driver, commander, gunner and loader. The driver sits in front of the turret, to the left of the engine compartment. The back of the driver’s seat folds forward and the driver can move back and forth between the driver’s compartment and the main crew compartment. The gunner and commander sit in the right side of the turret, and the loader sits in the left side of the turret.

Main armament on the original version of the Merkava main battle tank consisted of a fully stabilized 4.13 inch (105mm) M68 rifled main gun with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor. This was later upgrade to a 4.72 inch (120mm) gun.

The turret has 360 degree traverse. The gun can be elevated from -8.5 degrees to +20 degrees

Secondary armament includes a coaxial 0.3 inch (7.62mm) coaxial machine gun, which is mounted to the left of the main gun, and two roof-mounted 0.3 inch (7.62mm) anti-aircraft machine guns, one for the commander and one for the loader

There is a 60mm mortar mounted on the roof of the turret.

The hull of the Merkava MBT is covered in cast and welded armor.   A space filled with diesel fuel is sandwiched between two layers of cast armor, providing protection against HEAT rounds and anti-tank missiles.

A Horstmann suspension allows the Merkava to move smoothly over rough terrain. There is six pair of road wheels and four track return rollers on each side of the tank.  The idler is in the rear and the drive sprocket is at the front. The upper part of the suspension is covered by skirts.

The Merkava main battle tank has a fire control system with a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer. There is an NBC system and night vision equipment.

Variants of the Merkava main battle tank include:

  • Merkava Mark 2, which entered service in 1983. It has an improved fire control system and improved armor protection.
  • Merkava Mark 2B, with thermal optics and an updated fire control system.
  • Merkava Mark 2C, which has more armor protection at the turret top.
  • Merkava Mark 2D, which has modular composite armor on the turret and chassis.
  • Merkava Mark 3, which entered service with the Israeli army in 1990 and replaced the Mark 2. It has a 4.72 inch (120mm) IMI smoothbore gun, new modular armor, a new threat warning system, a new fire control system, laser designators, a more powerful engine, a new suspension, and new transmission
  • Merkava Mark 3 Baz, which entered service in 1995. It has upgraded armor, an upgraded fire control system and central air conditioning.
  • Merkava Mark 3D, which has modular composite armor on the turret and chassis.
  • Merkava Mark 4, which entered service in 2004. It has a better gun (120m) gun, better armor protection and an upgraded fire control system. The most recently built Merkava Mark 4s have been fitted with Israel’s Trophy Active Protection System, which detects and then destroys anti-tank weapons.
  • Merkava LIC (Low Intensity Conflict) – designed for urban warfare. Developed at the beginning of the 21st century, it has a 0.5 inch (12.7mm) heavy machine gun, which is useful in situations where the main gun would be ineffective, such as when facing individuals in urban combat situations. The Merkava LIC a 360 degree camera that alerts the crew of any suspicious activity in the area. Marking poles make it easier to maneuver the tank down narrow streets. A sharpshooter can fire though a hatch in the rear door. The air intakes are covered with wire mesh so explosives can’t be planted in them.
  • Merkava Tankbulance – an armed tank with medical equipment, two stretchers for carrying injured soldiers and space for a medical team to operate. (The Tankbulance is not considered an ambulance under the Geneva Convention.)
  • Merkava Nemmera – an armored recovery vehicle
  • Merkava Namer – an infantry fighting vehicle.

Merkava MBT

Active: 1979
Crew: 4
Weight: Marks 1 and 2: 59 tons (60,000kg); Mark 3 and 4: 64 tons (65,000kg)
Length: Marks 1 and 2: 24ft 5in (7.45m), 28ft 3in (8.63m) with gun forwards; Marks 3 and 4: 24ft 11 in(7.60m), 29ft 7in(9.04m) with gun forwards
Height: Marks 1 and 2: 8ft 7in (2.64m) to turret roof; Marks 3 and 4: 8ft 8in (2.66m) to turret roof
Width: Marks 1 and 2: 12ft 1in (3.7m), Mark 3 and 4: 12 ft 2 in (3.72m)
Weapons: Main – Marks 1 and 2: 4.13in (105mm) M68 rifled gun, Marks 3 and 4: 4.72in (120mm) IMI smoothbore gun; Secondary – 1 x 0.3 inch (7.62mm) coaxial machine gun, 2 x 0.3 inch (7.62mm) anti-aircraft machine guns
Armor Classified
Engine: Marks 1 and 2: General Dynamics AVDS -1790-6A V12 diesel, 900 hp; Mark 3: General Dynamics AVDS-1790-9AR V12 diesel, 1200 hp; Mark 4: General Dynamic GD883 V12 diesel 1,500 hp
Speed: Marks 1 and 2: 29mph (46kph), Marks: 37mph (60kph , Mark 4: 40 mph (64kph)
Range: Marks 1 and 2: 249 miles (400 km); Marks 3 and 4: 311 miles (500km);