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The Merkava, Israel's Chieftain?

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Well, late 70's design...and by then, the T-72/64 had fielded composite armor (at higher thickness than the Merk 1), 125 smoothbores etc. It could be said that the Merk was behind the times in that respect. 

The Israelis were pretty convinced their fancy new 105mm  "arrow" ammo would be able to kill any T-72 they encountered in the early 80's.  The west in general was a bit slow to realize how tough the armor on some of the T-72 variants really is.  

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Indeed...though the USSR themselves knew that the STEF design wouldn't last for very long.

If early-glacis + 16 mm HHS plate can defend from the Hetz at ~500 meters, the later glacis could at any range.

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Yes; hull sides of the Merkava IV have NERA:

2411833fydf4dfgfg.jpg

Merkava I was a rather dubious vehicle, IMO. It was still relying on the 105mm M68/L7 and steel armor when Syria and others were receiving T-72s. Subsequent Merkava designs seem to have closed the gap.

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I think I would have to disagree with this. Let me explain -

When the Merkava was conceived, the Israelis, in concert with the rest of Western tank producers - at least those without access to "Chobham"- were reliant on RHA. The Soviet Union was a generation ahead with it's fielding of composite armour. The Israelis were aware of their short-comings and were years away from being able to field effective, advanced armour. To compensate for this, the IDF made a decision that the configuration of their tank would enhance crew survivability and compensate for some of the reliance on RHA. The IDF's experience in the 1973 war had demonstrated that a knocked out tank could be repaired and put back into battle, sometimes more than once. The crucial shortage was trained tank crew, crew survivability was given priority. * See below for further information.

We disagree on the effectiveness of the tank's front-engined configuration. It was not chosen lightly but the result of much research, research not just into the IDF's own considerable data base, but through WWII records as well. (Tal recounted to me a fact about the Sherman, which the US ordnance corps had over-looked. If a Sherman was hit frontally, there was a higher chance of crew survivability if the penetrating round hit the transmission). It caused some consternation when he told US friends in the Armour branch, they checked his research and found it to be correct.)

All components of the Merkava were designed to be sacrificed to protect the crew, battery pack, suspension, fuel cells, etc were integrated into the effort to protect the crew in case of penetration. It might be worth pointing out that as far as I am aware, the Merkava was the first tank fitted with automatic halon fire suppression system to help prevent the vehicle brewing up in case of a hit. It was the first tank where special fuel cells were deliberately incorporated as a form of protection rather than just a component that needed protection itself. Have you ever taken a close look at the Merkava's turret basket? It's constructed of ballistic steel. Look again at its construction. It is designed as bar armour against RPGs. A generation before the West started adding such slat structures to its AFVs. The suspension is unnecessarily heavy,why? It's made of ballistic steel and designed to degrade and prevent penetration of the crew compartment.

As soon as they could, the Israelis introduced "special armour", firstly with the Merkava 2. The Merkava 3 as you know, was designed with modular armour packs which could be changed and upgraded as the technology became available and the threat evolved. this modularity was intended from the start. It does not strike me as the sign of a "dubious" tank, but of foresight. A new tank manufacturer knowing it could not match the latest armour available to the Soviet Union and some Western powers. A new manufacturer which compensated for short-comings by design decisions, which were not taken lightly. A new manufacturer who introduced advanced armour as soon as possible to a level of technology at least as good as more established tank producers.

I have been lucky enough to have met the late General Tal on a number of occasions and to discuss the design philosophy of the Merkava. I was cheeky enough to ask him with the benefit of hindsight, was there any aspect of the Merkava's design he would redo. The answer, by the way, was it's suspension. He would have ditched the current suspension for a pneumatic system, to save weight and accept a slight degrading of the vehicles cross-country performance in extreme terrain. MANTAK still toy with the idea of introducing a pneumatic suspension. I have seen one trialled on the Merk 4, but they have decided to stick with the current system, as it gives better rebound and travel needed when traversing the lava plains of the Golan.

*Incidentally, the records of the IDF's Ordnance Corps during 1973 and its work as a force multiplier, have been declassified and published, but only in Hebrew. An English transcript can be found here - An Israeli contributor to the military web sight "The Mess" has translated the official record of the IDF's Ordnance corps during the Yom Kippur war. The contributor, who goes under the name Camera, is an excellent source of information. See

http://themess.net/f...-yom-kippur-war

There is a highly detailed breakdown of armoured losses, listings of vehicles repaired, booty collected and pre and post war plans for the expansion of the IDF's order of battle amongst other information. It is clear that the Ordnance corps was a remarkable force multiplier during the conflict. data is an absolute treasure house for researchers on the war. There is information contained within this document that I had spent years, unsuccessfully trying to obtain. It was this document and the IDF's still classified data base of tank losses, causes and crew survivability statistics, which was the foundation of the Merkava's design.

cheers

Marsh

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Thanks for the long and detailed response, Marsh.

 

If, as I recall you said, the Mk II was really the first service version and the Mk I was sort of a preproduction prototype, then it's more understandable.  The Mk I is, to my eye, lagging behind in the arms and armor race.  Steel armor and an L7 just wasn't cutting it anymore.  The design proved adaptable enough that it could be brought up to modern standards, eventually, but in actual fact the Merkavas deployed to Lebanon in 1982 had weaker armor and weaker armament than the T-72s of the opposing side.  Or for that matter any, of the gazillions of T-72s elsewhere in the world.  Yes; the majority of NATO armor at the time was similarly outclassed.  That doesn't make it any less deficient; it's not like this is graded on a curve.

 

For the record, I don't think that the forward mounted engine in the Mekrava is a mistake; I just disagree with the common assessment of what it buys the design.  I don't think the engine aids that much to crew survivability; for one thing, it's offset and only protecting the driver on one side.  For another, aluminum alloys such as engine blocks are made of do not have particularly good resistance to hyper velocity threats like HEAT and LRPs.  However, I do think that it improves crew survivability indirectly; it frees up the rear hull to have a door, and a rear egress route is clearly preferable to exiting via the roof hatches.  It also speeds up ammunition resupply, which seems like a bit of an odd concern, but I am given to understand that this was actually a major consideration as the Israelis had problems with tanks running out of ammunition in 1973, and having to supply the rounds one at a time through the roof hatches wasn't cutting it in combat.

 

The transmission as a sacrificial component to protect the crew is an interesting notion, I had not really considered it.  Forum member Xlucine had mentioned a documented instance of a panther tank catching fire due to a transmission hit; not sure if he found that in the Bovington archives or what.  It happens.  The transmission is also mounted rather low in the hull; tanks don't usually get hit by direct-fire below the .8-1 meter height mark; so statistically the transmission would be poorly located it intercept much incoming fire.  Perhaps the additional mass would help protect the driver from mine explosions?

 

I'm actually puzzled to hear criticism of the Merkava's suspension; that is one feature that I would copy outright if I were designing a tank.  The Merkava III/IV have the best suspension travel figures of any MBT in the world, although the Abrams is not far behind.  Additionally, the external coil spring suspension has many small advantages over the more typical torsion bar suspension.  It allows the road wheels to be symmetrical, which improves the uniformity of wear.  It doesn't take up any space underneath the turret basket, which allows more volume within the turret or for the turret to be lower for a given internal volume.  Under some circumstances replacement of the spring units would be easier than with torsion bars.  There is no reason obvious to me why external coil spring suspension would be heavier than a torsion bar; a coil spring works by torsion so the energy density for a coil spring should be very similar to a torsion bar.  Unless the Merkava's suspension is deliberately overbuilt, I cannot imagine why it would be heavier than a torsion bar (hydropneumatic would mass less due to the better energy density of compressed air vs. a steel spring).  The additional protection seems like a modest advantage; again, tanks don't usually take hits that low, but free extra protection is always good, even if it's just a little.

 

Making the turret basket out of armor steel seems like a sensible measure to improve crew survivability, but how exactly is that supposed to work?  It it supposed to stop spall from hull penetrations from hitting the crew?  Slat armor usually works by screwing with the fusing of RPG-7s and similar, or by causing yaw in KE threats.  It's not clear to me how this is supposed to work if it's inside of the hull.

 

Finally, are you sure that the Merkava was the first tank to deliberately use fuel as armor protection?  I am pretty sure that the Pz. 68 and some variants of T-55 do as well.

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Hi Collmatrix.

Thanks for your interesting reply. Am away from home so just chance of a very quick reply. Sorry if I wasn't clear. By turret basket I meant the external stowage bin at the rear of the turret. Again sorry for the lack of clarity. It does indeed work as a form of slat armour.

I will answer your other stuff, if I can later in the day. Am moving house so WiFi intermittent.

Cheers

Marsh

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Hi LoooSer,

 

Not only does the Namer carry a water cooler, it has other unexpected goodies.

 

I have been in a couple of them and both were fitted with an automatic defibrillator for the resuscitation of casualties who have had a cardiac arrest. As far as I understand it, all machines, not just those tasked with casualty evacuation, were intended to be fitted with this device. They are also designed ability to rapidly erect stretchers which are stowed away within the vehicle., not just those tasked with casualty evacuation. 

 

cheers

Marsh

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Hi LoooSer,

 

Not only does the Namer carry a water cooler, it has other unexpected goodies.

 

I have been in a couple of them and both were fitted with an automatic defibrillator for the resuscitation of casualties who have had a cardiac arrest. As far as I understand it, all machines, not just those tasked with casualty evacuation, were intended to be fitted with this device. They are also designed ability to rapidly erect stretchers which are stowed away within the vehicle., not just those tasked with casualty evacuation. 

 

cheers

Marsh

 

So any namer can become an ambulance in a pinch?

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So any namer can become an ambulance in a pinch?

A casualty evacuation vehicle with some basic medical equipment - yes. It was also intended that a specialised Namer ambulance would be brought into service. I do not know if this has happened. 

 

Edit. That small blobby figure standing in front of the Namer on my avatar, is me. That was one of the machines where I saw the automatic defribulator

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