The Merkava Mk IV is Israel’s latest in the line of the vehicle series to be built. The design was to take the lessons learned from the three previous editions of the tank series and culminate it into a design for future armored operations that would serve the Israeli Army for decades to come. Conceived back in the late 1990’s by the Israeli Army, it looked improve upon operations in urban combat, as well as improve upon the successful design of the Merkava III series. Focus on the latest evolution of the series can be divided into three main categories; survivability, communications and modular growth.
The Israeli Army elected to focus on these three main categories due to their assessment of the current and future operational environment in relation to their national defense strategies. The operational environment that the Israeli Army executes in, requires them to deploy defensively, absorb any attack, and then counter attack to regain the initiative. Additionally, the distinct likelihood of operating in restrictive terrain, as well as urban terrain, required Israel to upgrade their tanks to focus on threats that could take advantage of the operational complexities found in urban centers. This led to upgrades such as Active Protective Systems, integrated battle management systems and software updates that mitigates counter mobility efforts (IEDs), anti-armor ambushes utilizing urban areas to reduce chances of detection and mitigation of collateral damage and reduced situational awareness when operating in restrictive environments. Capitalizing on the modular design of the Merkava series, production was carried out, starting in 2004/5 with follow on improvements such as the Barak variant later to come next few years.
Program Vision and Overview
The Merkava IV will continue to serve the Israeli Army’s as its main battle tank for decades to come. As it stands today and well into the future, there is no regional ground threat to the Israeli Armored Corps, which can threaten its primacy. The Merkava IV will be augmented with a new vehicle, designed to operate in urban and internal settings, which will free up armored units for traditional duties and roles. The Merkava IV is tasked to deploy and defend against an enemies main attack, defeating it and then to quickly transition onto the offensive by counter attacking. The tank can achieve this via its ability to deliver decisive lethal effects and accurate fires at all ranges, and employ informational dominance as an element of an integrated combined arms team that includes both close air support and close combat aircraft. This ability to nest and synergize within the formation and leverage all elements of the Defense Force’s capabilities greatly enhances the lethality and combat capability of the platform.
The Merkava IV affords the Israeli Army future growth to take advantage of future technologies, as seen with past upgrades and future upgrades now under way. Due to the close defense and security ties between the United States and Israel, the Israeli Merkava will undoubtedly continue to enjoy robust capability upgrades will into the next two decades. Lastly, the platform also affords for the potential growth of a common family of vehicles, based off the tank that will ensure affordable and reliable end item components, sub components as well as qualified and trained personnel to operate them, thus securing the critical lynchpin of any force; logistics and industrial capabilities.
The designed is capable of being deployed and transported by rail, sea, waterway and road modes of transportation. It is designed to be survivable against current and emerging threats that the Israeli Army is expected to face. As stated above, the Merkava IV, will serve as the lead element of the ground based strategy and defeat enemy attacks. This is a result of the design having significant attention paid to its lethality capability, its survivability against lethal enemy direct fire, as well as the vehicle’s ability to conduct rapid operations via its underrated mobility (armored mobility has various scopes of definitions, must important is its ability to tactically move as a unit, in combat formations and deliver accurate direct fires, during offensive operations).
The vehicle possess digitally advanced automotive functions to help prepare crews by conducting collective training, mission preparation and mission execution to facilitate tactical employment, which rapidly translates to operational dominance against an adversary. The Merkava IV possesses exceptional situational awareness, target acquisition data and critical information to orient on threats to deliver lethal direct fires at all ranges. The tank will be the world’s first to employ a helmet mounted integrated data system, known as Iron View. This system affords the crew to monitor internal and external data inputs in a similar fashion to a pilots integrated helmet display, and is derived from the Israeli involvement with the F-35 program. The tank also possesses advanced thermal and computerized imagery, long range DRI capabilities, rated in excess of 6km. The Merkava IV will able to receive and pass information horizontally and vertically within a fully integrated battlefield network system, which is also designed to integrate real time on target information from aerial assets, as well as capture, store and transmit imagery to other users, via their VDS-60. Further, modernization and improvements to the Israeli Weapon Integrated Battle Management System, will likely include remote fire and cooperative engagement scenario capabilities. Defensionem assesses that the Merkava IV will provide lethal direct fires against current and future armored threats out to ranges of 3km due to the Israeli employment of advanced kinetic and chemical energy rounds, such as their M-338/339 munitions.
The use of a IMI designed MG 251/3 series 120mm tank cannon, itself modeled upon aspects the RH-120 L/44, ensure that the Merkava IV will be able to employ both indigenously developed munitions, as well as specific NATO rounds, to include US made anti-armor munitions. Defensionem assesses that it is likely that Israel intentionally developed its main gun to be able to employ, as needed, US war stock material, in the event of an urgent needs requirement occurring, as this would keep in step with US-Israeli security ties and previous historical examples that have occurred.
Further, Defensionem assesses that the Merkava IV as having superiority within the greater Middle East region against all potential threats. The Merkava series do not employ depleted uranium shells, although, as stated above, they retain the option if the need were to occur. The Israeli Army employs a tungsten alloy 120mm sabot round as its primary anti-armor weapon with an estimated effective range of 2,500m against most threats. It is deemed probable that the IMI rounds are roughly equal to early series M-829 series sabot rounds formerly employed by the US. Recent collaboration between Israeli and Indian defense companies have resulted in tank fired munition programs worthy of employment. It is assessed that one or both nations within the next decade, will field a next generation sabot round that will use a depleted uranium rod. This munition will be critical for both nations to retain overmatch against potential threat upgrades going into the next decade and beyond. Lastly, the Merkava IV retains an internally mounted 60mm mortar for use, with enhanced indirect fire capabilities. This additional benefit, affords the vehicle to employ smoke and illumination rounds and immediate suppression rounds against dismounted threats, and also provides options for the vehicle commander to ascertain whether suspected enemy armor positions are in fact, occupied.
Vehicle Vulnerability Analysis
Defensionem assess via use of a fault tree analysis that cover the main subsystems that, if damaged or destroyed, would cause a communication, mobility, lethality, or catastrophic kill. These types of kills are defined below.
The vehicle experiences a communications-kill if it is damaged to the extent that it cannot transmit or receive information by its electronic communication equipment, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 10 minutes. Due to the Merkava employing an integrated communication system that is mounted under ballistic protection, the probability of this occurring is low except in circumstances involving a direct KE or CE hit. Standard vulnerability to radio antennas are present and any external satellite communication attachments mounted on the turret roof. The Merkava series were intentionally designed to limit potential damage to critical subsystems, such as its communications suite and operates with the flexible option of reduced electronic emissions as a result of its integrated battlefield network and system. Critically, this affords a reduced EMS signals, as well as passive communications and transmissions of certain data packets.
The vehicle experiences a mobility-kill if the damage causes the vehicle to be incapable of performing any of the mobility requirements of its assigned mission, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 20 minutes. The Merkava IV is designed with an integrated active APS system sufficient power generation to run the APS and full systems concurrently and has additional survivability features, to include spaced armor, Slat armor and ERA to protect against a mobility kill. The tank has the ability to mount ERA blocks along the axis of its hull and frontal skirts should the need arise. This ability reduces the probability of a mobility kill. Probability is rated as moderate and trends to high, as a result of the layered defense and protection systems all needing to be functioning and applied. Specifically designed tracks employed by the vehicle that reduce susceptibility, wear and tear, and aid in rapid repair to the vehicle track if the track receives little to no damage from enemy munitions.
The vehicle experiences a lethality-kill if the damage causes the vehicle to be incapable of performing any of the lethality requirements of its assigned mission, and the damage is not repairable by the crew on the battlefield within 10 minutes. The Merkava IV retains its 120mm cannon from the previous series and also its RWS 12.7mm weapon system. Due to the specifically designed turret, featuring highly shaped angles, the Merkava has a reduced frontal section, compared to most tanks without the loss of armor protection. Probability of a lethality kill for main armament systems occurring is deemed as low to moderate. Despite Israeli defensive doctrine of employing hull down positions, concerns still arise over the form of turret power it receives as well as the batteries being stationed forward (as opposed to the rear of the tank) and next to the engine compartment, despite the layered defensive approach adopted. Turret power is provided by electrical power with enhanced batteries for extended use. While a lethality kill will occur if the tank batteries are damaged, the design of additional features ensures that mechanical functions can still occur even with battle damage, as does the ability to conduct silent operations. The location of the RWS increases the chances of damage from fragments, small arms fire or a main gun round hitting the turret. Additionally, the RWS is mounted in front of the loader, affording the crew some level of protection while repairing and or reloading the machine gun. The probability of the secondary weapons being damaged is deemed moderate to high.
Catastrophic Kill (K-kill) The vehicle suffers a catastrophic-kill if the damage is so extensive that the vehicle is not economically repairable. Items carried on-board the vehicles whose detonation or ignition could result in catastrophic damage would be items such as ammunition, fuel, oil, fluids, etc. The MerkavaIV possesses a multi layered protection scheme. The armor is a third generation composite mix, encapsulated between high strength steel. Further, the armor is designed upon a modular block system that can be changed out under battlefield conditions. The overall turret armor is complemented by an intentional and methodical design that affords the turret to have sharp angles that aid in its protection. Further, due to the design, at distance, the ability to hit a sleekly designed turret is reduced. This design also affords greater kinetic resistance properties. The turret also features enhanced composite material specifically designed to deal with chemical energy munitions, such as anti-tank missiles, as well as of Kevlar interior lining. The second layer of defense is the APS system. This system aims to provide greater side protection, as well as covering frontal aspects of the tank, due to the unusual location of where the turret and chassis are mated. This should afford greater side and rear coverage. This was an intentional design of the series, and maximizes the coverage abilities of the APS systems employed by the tank. However, the use of modular armor presents a significant shortfall. Mounted armor modules must be fitted into a preexisting slot, and are not integrated as an “organic armor package”, this results in a lower collective hardness, as the entirety of the armor package is two separate components. Further, if a modular armor block is damaged and not replaced, then a gap in the armor protection scheme would develop during extended operations and present a vulnerable area if re engagement occurred.
Due to the layout of the turret, analysis of its weight and the weight of the chassis, and additional materials, Defensionem estimates the Merkava IV has a single steel wall and special composite armor panels without a reinforced armored plate covering the exterior of the package, thus it is estimated to have between 520 to 550mm of RHA armor over the frontal part of the turret (against kinetic energy rounds).The vehicle has additional protection afforded to it as a result of the unusual placement of its engine compartment, which is placed forward as opposed to the rear of the turret. This feature is a specific design requirement, because as mentioned earlier, the Israeli ground strategy is defense first, followed by rapid and aggressive counter attacks. Rear turret visual analysis allows for concern and identifies a potential exposure point of the turret rear, near the blow out panels and ammunition stowage area. This is mitigated by the placement of steel mesh and chains attached to the rear of the turret, covering said area.
Due to Israel’s considerable focus and investment into anti-missile defense, it is probable that the Merkava IV is greatly resistant to KE rounds possessed by potential adversaries in the region. Due to the operational environment and the heavy investment in DRI technologies, integrated management systems and combined arms operations, it is unlikely that the tank will be vulnerable to penetration at medium to long ranged fires. This assessment is based off of probable engagement ranges in the area of operation, with a notable exception north towards Lebanon, which does not pose an armored threat. Simply put, there is low chance that the tank will receive a catastrophic kill from another tank, except at close range or from the side or rear. Defensionem rates the chances of a catastrophic kill occurring as low to moderate, depending on whether or not advanced anti-armor missiles are employed successfully against the vehicle.