Merkava Mk V Barak Main Battle Tanks are joining the IDF’s 401st Armoured Brigade

 27. 10. 2023      Category: Ground forces

This September, the first Merkava V Barak tanks have been handed over to the Mechanised Armoured Corps after 5 years of development by the IDF, the Ministry of Defence and several Israeli arms manufacturers. The first tanks of what the Ministry of Defence called "5th generation Merkava battle tanks" were delivered to the 52nd armoured battalion of the 401st brigade.

Picture: Merkava Mk V Barak Main Battle Tanks are joining the IDF’s 401st Armoured Brigade (illustration) | Shutterstock
Picture: Merkava Mk V Barak Main Battle Tanks are joining the IDF’s 401st Armoured Brigade (illustration) | Shutterstock

Development of the new generation

In 2015, the Isreali Ministry of Defence and the IDF launched research to develop a new tank for the Mechanised Armoured Corps. Development began in 2018. In 2020, initial tests were carried out, and in recent months the first tanks have been delivered to the Israeli army. The new Barak tank was developed in collaboration between the Ministry of Defence's Directorate of Mechanised Armoured Vehicles, the Land Forces and the Israeli army's Mechanised Armoured Corps. It incorporates systems developed by several Israeli defence companies, including Elbit Systems, Rafael and the Elta subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries.

The new generation of the Barak tanks are equipped with a large infrastructure of reliable sensors to detect targets, and intelligence information can be shared between the tank and other parts of the army, representing "a real revolution on the battlefield", according to the Israeli Ministry of Defence: "The Barak tank will enhance enemy detection capabilities and make it possible to fight an enemy with a reduced signature in all combat scenarios, on the current and future battlefield, against the full range of threats that exist to the manoeuvre force." 

Iron Vision

The tank commanders are to be equipped with a helmet developed by Elbit. This new type of helmet is very similar to that of a fighter pilot. The purpose is the same, to give its user a full view of the environment and display relevant information about the ongoing battle, in other words, to strenghten his situational awarness.

The concept is not new or exclusive to the Merkava V tanks; it has been implemented, for example, to the ASCOD 42 tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles within the GDELS-Elbit collaboration. Elbit calls the system IronVision. It generates an image that allows the crew to see through the vehicle's armour, which will help soldiers to overcome inherent visibility limitations, while improving mission effectiveness and safety. The system will enable 360-degree scanning by moving the head and real-time target location using artificial intelligence capabilities. IronVision is also able to utilize pre-loaded terrain and obstacle information, combined with smart, intuitive symbology and data anchoring, to display all the information required, simultaneously to the various crewmembers. And in addition, the system can also serve as a ‘true-to-life’ training system, providing cost effective training solutions.

Elbit has also developed improved sights and more advanced night vision for the new Barak tanks, compared with previous Merkava models. And it has provided a new touchscreen-based user interface for the tank, which displays relevant information to each crew member.
All these systems are there to allow soldiers to fight while keeping the tank’s hatches completely closed. Unlike previous Merkava models, and generally all older generation tanks and armoured vehicles, where the commander would either be vulnerable to fire or less able to see his surroundings, perceive the situation, and choose the best solutions while being able to coordinate his crew members.

Iron Fist

Merkava V Barak tanks also include an advanced missile defence system, the IronFist device, developed by the Rafael company, which is currently deployed on older Merkava tank models and the progressive Namer Armoured Personnel Carriers/Infantry Fighting Vehicles.
The Iron Fist (Windbreaker) device, which is known as the 'TROPHY' system outside Israel, consists of a radar detection system that spots incoming missiles and predicts their trajectory, and launchers that fire pellet-like metal balls, detonating the incoming missile or rocket at a safe distance from the tank.

Better striking force

And it is not just the more efficient protection that the new genration of tanks comes with. Merkava’s strike force had also been significantly improved, increasing the tank’s lethality. This is mainly due to the new Fire Control System, developed by Elbit, which enables precise attacks at rest and on the move, day and night, under any weather conditions, with improved ranges when compared to the previous generations of the tank.

IDF to get hundreds of new modern tanks

The 401st brigade is one of the youngest brigades of the IDF, having been formed in 1966. It currently fields three armoured battalions, the 9th "Eshet" battalion, 46th "Shelah" battalion and the 52nd "Ha-Bok'im" battalion, together with the 601st "Asaf" armored engineers, 401st recon company and the 298th "Eyal" signal company. Merkavas V coming to the 52nd battalion first, the other armoured battalions are equipped with the very potential Merkava Mk IV Barak tanks.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said it was "symbolic" that the new tank introduction was being announced as Israel celebrates 50 years since the 1973 Yom Kippur War and "the heroic battles fought by the soldiers of the Mechanised Armoured Corps in defence of our country". The Yom Kippur War has seen major tank battles in which the IDF armoured units were initially outnumbered by their Syrian and Egyptian counterparts, but were able to fight them off : besides other reasons thanks to their high level of individual situational awarness, a feature strenghtened beyond today’s standards with the Merkava V’s systems. "We have here further proof of the relevance and power of the tank as a fundamental and decisive factor in land manoeuvre," Gallant said in a statement.

The Merkava has been the Israeli army's main battle tank since the 1980s. Overall, 250 pieces of the Mk I tanks, later modernized to the Mk II standard, were built, 580 Mk II followed. In recent years, the Mechanised Armoured Corps has replaced most of its Merkava Mk III models, of which 780 pieces were produced, with the more modern Mk IV models, which were introduced in 2003, and modernized several times since. So far there is about 400 Mk IVs in service and several hundreds are being produced. The Mk V Barak will eventually become the Main Battle Tank of the Mechanised Armoured Corps, and the modernization process will continue, with estimated production of 850 tanks.

Detailed specifications of the Merkava tanks are classified. The general specifications are as follows:

Weight: 65,000 kg
Length: 9.04 m (including gun barrel)
Width: 3.72 m
Height: 2.66 m
Forward speed: 64 km/h on road and 55 km/h off road
Reverse speed: 25 km/h
Engine: 1200 hp TCM AVDS 1790-9AR diesel
Vertical obstacle climb: 1 m
Maximum width ditch: 3.5 m
Fording Depth: 1.4 m
Main Gun: 120mm smooth-bore MG253 cannon
Coaxial machinegun: 7.62mm
Anti-personnel machineguns: 2 x 7.62mm
Commander's machinegun: 12.7 mm
Light Mortar Internal: 60 mm

 Author: Peter Bass