Merkava tank: The world’s best “monster” meets a Hamas nightmare

Once known as the “undefeated Middle East”, the Merkava tank proved too fragile in the local conflict. So where will this family of tanks go in the Hamas-Israel conflict?

From the best tank in the world to the nightmare called Hamas

Before October 2023, in anyone’s visual impression, Israel’s Merkava main battle tanks were giant armored monsters with thick armor, good protection, and very difficult to destroy.

Its unique design, such as the forward engine and the large slope of the turret’s armor, are all evidence that the designers paid special attention to defense.

Together with the Trophy active defense system installed on the Merkava IV version, further enhances protection capabilities, helping it to be recognized as the “best tank in the world”.

However, after October this year, everything changed. In the raid called “Aqsa Flood”, Hamas gunmen used four-rotor civilian UAVs, carrying SPG-9 anti-tank gun warheads to drop from the air and used anti-tank grenade launchers. RPG-7 for close-range shooting destroyed a significant number of Merkava tanks, shocking the world.

The Hezbollah armed forces in Lebanon also used Russian “Kornet imitation” anti-tank missiles in the border area with Israel, destroying a large number of Merkava tanks, including two advanced versions. new Merkava III and Merkava IV.

It is worth noting that these Merkavas do not suffer losses when they are resting, but are hit and damaged or destroyed during combat. In other words, the Merkava tank was destroyed by anti-tank weapons in a confrontation, casting a shadow over Israel’s main battle tanks.

Communication creates the “brand” Merkava

According to Sina, the Merkava tank has nothing to do with the “excellent performance” of the Israeli armored forces. Because they were born relatively late, the first Merkavas only had time to participate in the 5th Middle East War (also known as the 1982 Galilee Peace campaign in Lebanon), and the number of participants was extremely limited. mechanism.

The type of tank that participated heavily in this Israeli war was the Magach tank, upgraded based on the M48 and M60 tanks that the US donated.

The combat achievements of the Merkava tank are also very mysterious. Israel believes that the Merkava destroyed 9 Syrian T-72 tanks but there is no proof. Not even with the T-55 and T-62. But the problem is, that the war ended with Israel winning, and the final battlefield was controlled by Israel.

It is hard to imagine that the Syrian army – then defeated and having lost a significant amount of heavy weapons – would spend time recovering its destroyed tanks in a hasty evacuation.

Therefore, many international historians believe that the so-called “myth” of Merkava destroying the T-72, like destroying the T-62 or even the T-55, is just building an image of this type. This new Israeli tank.

However, the image of the Merkava I suffering losses in the 5th Middle East War provides clear evidence. The Syrian army’s tank-hunting mobile team used Milan anti-tank missiles to destroy the Merkava I tank.

Thus, the performance of the Merkava I tank in a conventional conflict appears to have been unsatisfactory.

Since the Merkava II version, this family of tanks has been used as a special combat vehicle for anti-guerrilla warfare. Compared to other Israeli-made weapons, no Merkava models have been exported.

According to records, customers are limited to the Israeli Army, so production numbers are also very low, with only one or two hundred vehicles per version.

Starting from the Merkava III version, the 120mm smoothbore gun replaced the 105mm twist gun as the main weapon. The fire control system with stabilization on two planes also replaced the previous simple fire control system, keeping up with world trends.

Along with a fairly modern appearance, the Merkava gives people the visual impression of an “advanced main battle tank”. In addition, Israel’s communication skills have always been very skillful. They emphasized the Merkava’s front engine design, “valuing the lives of the crew” and were praised by Western media, making people easily understand. The mistaken belief is that Merkava is “invincible”.

Merkava’s “illusion” collapsed

The illusion of Merkava collapsed at the beginning of 2002 when the Merkava III tank was damaged in the first battle.

At that time, the Hamas armed forces used the tactic of planting roadside bombs (IEDs), destroying an Israeli army Merkava III and only 1 of the 4 crew members survived, but his legs were damaged. amputated. At this time, Merkava IV has just been put into use but is only a test version

During the 2006 anti-Hezbollah campaign, both Merkava III and Merkava IV were recorded as being destroyed by Hezbollah using anti-tank missiles that imitated American TOW missiles produced by Iran, and some were even destroyed by Hezbollah. with an RPG-7 grenade launcher using a concave penetrating warhead.

Furthermore, in actual combat, people found that the reason the Merkava series placed the engine in the front of the vehicle was actually because they were worried about the thin front composite armor, so they had to arrange the engine in the front, carrying brings a sense of security to the people sitting in the car.

But the problem is that the front-mounted engine also means the engine is easily destroyed. Once this situation occurs, the tank will no longer be able to fight.

The front engine itself is not unusual and many light tanks and armored fighting vehicles also use this arrangement. However, with the Merkava, as a 60-ton main battle tank, the application of this design is “a bit strange”.

The arrangement of the engine in the front also reveals some other weaknesses such as the vehicle being unbalanced compared to the arrangement in the rear; Large infrared markings and taller bodywork.

Merkava’s Sweatshirt explosive reactive armor consists of a multi-layer structure, made from thin metal plates and fiberglass panels, then bonded with rubber, mixed with plastic explosives inside.

If encountering a jet penetrating beam weapon such as a concave explosive bullet, the explosives in the rubber will explode, causing the thin metal plate to be thrown away, deflecting the penetrating beam. In theory, it also has a certain effect on armor-piercing bullets.

However, the effectiveness of the Sweatshirt in reality was much worse. During the conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, anti-tank missiles using parallel warheads still penetrated the body of the Merkava” III/IV vehicle and destroyed it.

In the recent “Aqsa Flood” raid, Hamas used a 4-axis propeller UAV to drop RPG-7 warheads from above onto the turret, damaging the vehicle and causing the combat crew to abandon the vehicle. withdraw.

Hamas forces used 73mm SPG-9 DKZ guns and RPG-7 grenade launchers using homemade parallel armor-piercing bullets, which could penetrate the body of Merkava III and Merkava IV vehicles.

Even improved AT-3 anti-tank missile shells (using parallel armor-piercing warheads) can destroy the Merkava IV turret from the side. The Trophy active protection system has difficulty intercepting armor-piercing bullets of DKZ SPG-9 and may not be able to intercept RPG-7 bullets even within a range of 50m.

In other words, the Trophy active defense system, which is the “standard configuration” of new-generation tanks, cannot guarantee safety against the most common infantry anti-tank weapons at present. This will hurt the future.

This will certainly be a strong blow to one of Israel’s key products in the international military trade market.

Faced with risks, Israel also began to learn from Russia’s approach in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, adding a “roof”-“-style cage armor plate above the turret of the Merkava tank to protect against weapons. Anti-tank gas can be dropped from four-rotor UAVs.

The interesting thing is that when Russia first used “iron helmets” on the roofs of tanks, they were ridiculed by some “military experts” in the West. However, as the war in Ukraine continued, Kyiv’s armed forces quickly followed suit, donning “iron helmets” for their tanks and armored vehicles.

The new Merkava tank family has the newest member, Merkava V (also known as Barak, meaning Lightning), which appeared in September 2023. The Israeli Ministry of Defense claims it is Israel’s fourth-generation main battle tank. If you look at the appearance, there is not much difference between the Merkava V and the improved Merkava IV.

The Israeli army claims that the fire control system of the Merkava V is more advanced and has integrated virtual reality (VR) viewfinder into the fire control system so observation and targeting can be performed. displayed through VR glasses mounted on working helmets, and can carry out real-time exchange of battlefield information with other manned and unmanned platforms…

The Israeli army plans to deliver the first Merkava Vs to the Sinbat Tank Brigade in 2025.

But it must be said that Israel’s tank force is very small, a tank battalion has only two combat-ready companies and one reserve company, with a total of 20 vehicles. In particular, the M60s upgraded to the Magach version are assigned to a reserve tank company.

The total number of Merkava III/IV tanks in service is only 600 (460 Merkava IVs and 140 Merkava IIIDs), plus less than 300 Magach 7s. With less than 1,000 tanks, there is simply not enough to fight on high-intensity battlefields such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Although Israel’s advance into the Gaza Strip is achieving certain results, however, according to many sources since the conflict broke out from October 7 until now, about 50 Israeli Merkava tanks have been destroyed.

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