The 65t Merkava 4 main battle tank entered full production in 2001 and began operational training with the Israel Defence Force in July 2003. The first battalion of Merkava Mk 4 tanks entered service with the Israel Defence Forces in 2004.
The Ministry of Defence plan to manufacture between 50 and 70 Merkava 4 tanks a year and up to 400 tanks may be manufactured in total, although budgetary constraints put these numbers in doubt. The Merkava 4 has been extensively improved including new armour protection and gun and electronics systems.
The Merkava 4 is slightly larger than the Merkava 3 Baz, which has been in service with the IDF since 1990. The Merkava 3 is offered for export by SIBAT based in Tel Aviv. The Merkava 4 is not offered for export but the systems and components are exported.
The tank is capable of carrying eight infantry soldiers, a command group or three litter patients (stretcher casualties) in addition to the tank crew of commander, loader, gunner and driver. The tank is capable of firing on the move at moving targets and has demonstrated high hit probability in firing against attack helicopters using conventional anti-tank munitions.
Major contractors include: the El Op Electro-Optic Industries subsidiary of Elbit Systems which is responsible for the fire control system; the Israel Defence Force which carries out main construction and system integration and testing; Israel Military Industries for the supply of the main gun, ballistic protection and munitions; Imco Industries for the electrical systems; Urdan Industries for the hull, main turret and castings; and IAI Ramta for protection components.
The main part of the tank production, the construction of the hull and integration of all the systems is carried out in the Israel Defence Force workshop.
Merkava 4 battle tank weaponry
The Merkava 4 has a new all-electric turret developed by Elbit and subsidiary El-Op. Only one hatch is installed in the turret, the commander’s hatch.
The improved 120mm smooth-bore gun has been developed by Israel Military Industries.
“The improved Merkava 4 battle tank gun can fire higher power munitions including new 120mm high-penetration projectiles and guided shells.”
The new gun is an advanced generation of the gun developed for the Merkava 3. A Vidco thermal shroud on the gun reduces bending of the barrel resulting from environmental and firing conditions. The gun can fire higher power munitions including new 120mm high-penetration projectiles and guided shells.
The loader can select semi-automatically the ammunition type. The tank carries 48 rounds of ammunition each stored in a protective container. An electrically operated revolving magazine contains 10 ready-to-fire rounds.
The range of ammunition includes APFSDS-T M711 (CL 3254), the HEAT-MP-T M325 (CL 3105) and the TPCSDS-T M324 (CL 3139) supplied by the Ammunition Group of Israel Military Industries. The gun is also capable of firing French, German or US 120mm rounds.
The tank is fitted with 7.62mm machine guns and an internally operated 60mm mortar system developed by Soltam Ltd. The mortar can fire explosive and illumination rounds to a range of 2,700m.
The protection suite includes an advanced electromagnetic threat identification and warning system.
El Op fire control
The new fire control system, developed by El Op, includes very advanced features including the capability to acquire and lock onto moving targets, even airborne helicopters, while the tank itself is on the move.
The computer-controlled fire control system includes line-of-sight stabilisation in two axes, a second-generation television sight and automatic thermal target tracker, a laser range finder, an improved thermal night vision system and a dynamic cant angle indicator.
The commander’s station is fitted with a stabilised panoramic day and night sight. The integrated operating system includes advanced data communications and battle management. Tadiran developed the Merkava’s communications system, the inter communication system and the VRC 120 vehicular transceiver radio with embedded auxiliary receivers
“The Merkava 4’s sensors include radar with four antennas placed around the vehicle.”
The tank is fitted with the Amcoram LWS-2 laser warning system, with threat warning display installed at the commander’s station. This links to the Israel Military Industries POMALS (pedestal-operated multi-ammunition launching system) decoy launcher. One launcher is fitted on either side of the tank, which can launch smoke grenades and decoys.
A Merkava 4 has also been fitted with the Rafael Trophy Active Protection System.
Trophy provides 360° coverage against anti-tank rockets, anti-tank missiles and tank HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) rounds. Once Trophy has detected a threat, it is tracked and classified and the optimal intercept point is computed, prior to launching a countermeasure.
Sensors include radar with four antennas placed around the vehicle. The system development was completed in April 2007 and the IDF has approved production for fitting on new Merkava tanks.
The Trophy system entered low-rate initial production (LRIP) in June 2008 and is planned to achieve initial operating capability in late 2009.
GD 883 V-12 diesel engine
The Merkava 4 is powered by a V-12 diesel engine rated at 1,500hp. The engine compartment and one fuel tank are at the front of the tank and two fuel tanks are at the back. The new engine represents a 25% increase in power compared to the 1,200hp powerpack installed on the Merkava 3.
The German company MTU manufactures the engine components and the GD 883 engine is manufactured under licensed production by General Dynamics Land Systems in the USA. The engine is transferred to Israel for installation and integration with the automatic transmission and with the engine computer control system. The tank has automatic five-gear transmission rather than four gears as in the Merkava 3. The transmission system is manufactured by Renk. The single position rotary shock absorbers are installed externally.
The redesign of the hull around the installation of the new powerpack has provided improved frontal armour protection and improvement to the driver’s field of view. For improved reverse driving the driver uses a camera.
“The Merkava 4 is powered by a V-12 diesel engine rated at 1,500hp.”
A new feature of the tank is that the fitted modular special armour covers the turret. The tank is protected against a range of threats, including air-launched precision-guided missiles and advanced and top-attack anti-tank weapons. Automatic fire detection and suppression has been installed. The underside of the hull has been fitted with additional armour protection against mines.
The driver and crew compartments are equipped with heating and cooling air conditioning and a Shalon Chemical Industries combined individual and overpressure protection systems against contamination by NBC warfare.