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 Most of the early versions are being withdrawn from service.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.

7 thoughts on “Merkava”

  1. Being a dedicated thirty-year Army Reservist, now fully retired, I do thank “Jake” of the VMI Armor
    roll for cluing me in on your most interesting website. My time in Armor dates to the 8/40th Armor of the now-long-dismembered 191st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, an outfit that stretched from Douglas, Arizona to Cut Bank, Montana, near the Canadian border.

    We trained at Camp Irwin, before it achieved full Fort status and our M-48A1s were gasoline burners. Our training was held in August of each year and the temperatures were in extreme and
    my platoon HQ tank had an engine fire on startup from hull-defilade one hot afternoon. One of my courageous soldiers, SSGT Sainz, clambered back on board, after the on-board fire extinguishers failed the task … Sergeant Sainz cranked the engine until the fire snuffed and the Bn motorpool
    folks hosed the engine compartment with more extinguisher blasts.

    But … the wiring had been roasted … that cost me four cases of cold beer and the exchange was accomplished lugubriously and in just two hours’ time!

  2. They also lined/ran the machine gun link-belts around int of turret to provide even more stopping power via shell casings IIRC.

  3. Wow that is a good story Dr Hatheway,
    I have heard stories from uncles and other family, that always included trading something to get a job done.
    Is that a thing of the past Xbrad? or is there some of that still going on?

    A story my father told me,
    He used to hang out at a speed shop in the 50’s. The guy that ran the place “picked up” a jet engine that the army had no need of. (FOD had damaged the blades) He then proceeded set a land speed record. That attracted the FBI. Evidently it had been disposed of properly, and as long as they were winning no one cared too much.

  4. V,
    Parts control is a lot tighter now than it used to be, so I would never really have to wheel-and-deal to get parts.

    On the other hand, only a fool would fail to take good care of his mechs. Each line company has a maintenance team attached to it from the Headquarters Company. Generally there’s a team chief, a couple of hull mechs and a couple of turret mechs.

    I had a ‘ghost’ in my Bradley’s turret, where every time we live-fired the main gun, the turret drive would conk out. Never could figure out what was wrong with it, but my poor turret mech just about worked himself to death trying to figure it out.

  5. Xbrad,

    Big words may get our two brain cells to arguin’, as my Platoon Sergeant used to say, but we can pronounce (sorry, say) “Crunchie” 🙂


    Jake, who brought DR. H to your place

    PS You know why tankers like chem lights? You gotta break ’em to make ’em work. 🙂

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