Israrel's Merkava Tank: The Best on the Planet?

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: Active protection systems may very well steal the day.

The Israeli Merkava (Chariot) main battle tank is an example of a sophisticated weapon system designed to deal with very specific national requirements.

Though similar in performance to Western main battle tanks such as the German Leopard 2 and American M1 Abrams, the Merkava has many features not found in any other contemporary tank designs.

Today we’ll compare the Merkava to the Abrams in terms of the three vital qualities of a tank: firepower, mobility, and armor.

First, however, a little background.

The Merkava was first conceived by an Israeli General Israel Tal following the titanic armored clashes of the Yom Kippur War. Tal wanted a tank that prioritized crew protection above all else.  The Merkava I entered service in 1978, and saw its first major action in Operation Peace for Galilee in 1982, where it performed well in engagements with Syrian T-62 tanks. Nonetheless, several were lost in battle, and the subsequent Merkava II tank featured upgraded spaced armor.  The 1990s saw the Merkava III with a critical upgrade to a 120 millimeter main gun, and finally the latest Merkava IV has a more powerful engine and has recently been fitted with a sophisticated active-protection system for use against anti-tank missiles and rockets.

The Abrams, of course, is the classic American design introduced in the 1980s which devastated Soviet-made Iraqi armor in the 1991 Gulf War without losing a single tank to enemy fire. Though the M1’s reputation for invulnerability was slightly dented by a few losses in the later 2003 war in Iraq and more recently by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Abrams still helped set a standard in tank performance that only a few designs can rival. The U.S. Army has continuously tweaked the M1’s ammunition, armor package, and sensors to keep it up to date.

Is there any a chance of Israeli Merkavas could confront M1s in combat?  

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