Why? Because we love things that go “BOOM”

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H/T: Theo

Merkava

The Israelis have long sought to manufacture as much of their military hardware as possible at home.There are a couple good reasons for this. First, in the event of an arms embargo, they won’t find themselves without the weapons they need to fight. Having faced more than one embargo, they are somewhat wary of placing any faith in anybody outside Israel. Second, as an export industry, it can be very profitable, once they have an established production base. There are more than a couple countries that have no great love for Israel but have ended up buying military hardware from them.

One area the Israelis really wanted to establish some independence in was making tanks. A modern tank takes a lot more work to make than you might think. The armor itself is difficult to produce. You also need powerful engines, the delicate machinery to operate the turret, the precision milling to make the main gun, the specialized electronics and optics for the fire control system and an industry to make the ammunition.

After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel got serious about manufacturing their own tank. And based on the heavy casualties in tank crews during that war, one of the objectives was to make crew survivability a priority (the US Army’s design of the M-1 tank was also heavily influenced by the same factors).

The result of the development was the Merkava tank. The Merkava was a little unusual in several ways. Unlike just about every other main battle tank in the world, the Merkava had its engine mounted in the front, pushing the turret towards the rear. This provided an extra degree of protection in that if a round penetrated the front armor, it would still have to go through the engine to get to the crew compartment.  And because the crew compartment was at the rear of the vehicle, you could put a small entry to the vehicle in the back. By removing some of the ammo racks, you could provide space for a couple infantrymen or extra radios and operators for a unit commander or even put in medics and litters to use the vehicle as an ambulance. Finally, the wedge shaped turret was designed to cause most shells striking it to ricochet rather than penetrate.

Over the years, the Merkava has been developed in four main versions. Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service. Some thought was given to converting them to armored personnel carriers, but as of 2008 the decision was made to build new APCs based on the Merkava 4 design.

Tank Gunnery

We’ve talked a bit about the M-1 Abrams tank before, and in some of our posts, we’ve discussed gunnery qualifications for Bradley crews.

Tank gunnery qualification is almost identical in structure to Bradley qualification. This video shows some crews firing the day qualification in Germany. After they finish this, they’ll go back and do it again at night.

During the actaul qualification, each run is videotaped, and the radio and intercom are recorded to assist in grading the crews. Crews are scored on accuracy, speed, and technique-such as issuing the proper fire commands and proper driving technique.

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The targets are mostly plywood, designed to fall after being hit. Since the rounds only leave a small hole, they can be used again and again. Many times, when it looks like a  round has hit behind the target, it really has gone through the target, and is scored as a hit. Just look for the target falling.

Cheap Shots

I can’t imagine any circumstances in which I would have voted for Mike Dukakis for President back in 1988. Well, maybe if someone gave me a pre-frontal lobotomy perfomed with dull swiss army knife and a dirty spoon. Maybe. I never liked him, and he stood against pretty much everything I stood for politically. But I always thought he got a raw deal one time.

When he was running for President, he faces an opponent with military experience and a great deal of foreign policy background- George H.W. Bush. Bush had been a Naval Aviator in WWII and had served in  a wide variety of positions including Director of Central Intelligence and of course, two terms as Vice President under Ronald Reagan. Dukakis was the Governor of Massachusetts, but had little defense or foreign policy background(Dukakis did serve in the Army from 1955-57). In order to bolster his defense “bona fides” he took part in a photo op riding in an Army M-1 Abrams Tank. The result was this infamous photo.

Dukakis was mercilessly mocked for the photo. The Bush campaign ran ads of the photo to make the point that Dukakis was not fit to be Commander-in-Chief. Many people credit this for shifting the tide in the election from favoring him to favoring Bush (I think Willie Horton might have had more to do with it).  It bacame the prime example of a PR stunt backfiring.

Here’s why I think he got a raw deal. He looked goofy. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Everyone in a tank helmet looks goofy. I do. Oh, Lord, don’t I know I look goofy. The thing is, the helmet wasn’t designed as a fashion accessory, it was made to keep you from cracking your skull open when the tank bounces around.

We’ve seen several cases where politicians since then have been mocked for wearing helmet, to include John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Obama with the bike helmet (I’ll admit, I love Slu’s P-Shops of the bike helmet). George W. Bush has been mocked for being photographed in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier (if he hadn’t taken the helmet off before photos, he would have been screwed).

I’m glad Dukakis lost the election, I just feel bad that he had to take that cheap shot.

Tank Battles

I wrote earlier about bringing enough gun to the fight, but not too much. A prime example of this was the M-1 Abrams tank.

When this tank debuted, people were aghast at the cost. What they didn’t realize was it was acutally the result of an extreme cost cutting program. For 20 years, the Army had been cooperating with Germany to develop a sucessor to the M-60 series of tanks, but each iteration had become too complex and too costly. The Army finally decided that they would develop a tank using technology shared with the Germans rather than develop a tank to be used by both countries.

One of the sticking points was the main gun. The standard US tank gun was the 105mm M68. The Army thought this was sufficient to defeat current and projected Soviet armor (and were pretty much right).

The Germans had developed the excellent 120mm smoothbore, and wanted both countries tanks to use it. Our Army resisted for a couple of reasons. The biggest was cost. The new gun would have to be license produced here, with associated setup costs. Even more expensive would be providing stocks of ammunition for the gun. The Army had a huge stockpile of 105mm ammunition already. Buying an entirely new stockpile in the tight budgets of the 1970s wasn’t an attractive option.

In the end, the 105mm won-sort of. The decision was to place the M-1 into production with the 105mm, but make provision to add the 120mm in the future. As it turned out, for various reasons, this was a lot harder than anyone expected. Still, partly as a sop to our German allies, and partly over concern about the ability of the 105mm to defeat future Soviet armor, the 120mm was adopted for the M1A1 that entered service in 1988.

One disadvantage of the 120mm was a reduced ammo load. An M-1 with the 105mm carries 55 main gun rounds. An M-1A1 carries 40. As it turns out, however, few tanks will shoot their entire basic load in a single battle. In fact, not a single tank in Desert Storm fired its entire basic load.

Tankers, ever wonder why the coax on your tank has that massive 4000 round load? Because that’s where the designers originally wanted to put the 25mm M242. The only reason it didn’t make it into the final design was cost. Leaving the 25mm out saved about $100,000 just for the gun, and made the fire-control system simpler, and hence cheaper.