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Frag Out! Magazine #31

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Page 17 of 187

significantly better protection against the HEAT, when compared to the Soviet designs. Still, US- and German-made ERA were unmatched. In the light of the above, it is visible that Merkava Mk 1 was not as good as Leopard 2A0, M1 Abrams or T-80B and T-64B. However, the afore- said top-ranked MBTs should not be used as a point of reference, when discussing the first generation of the Israeli chariot. The first, domestically-developed Israeli MBT shall be compared to the MBTs operated by Israel's neighbors, taking into account the ammuni- tion available at the time. This refers, primarily, to Egypt and Syria. And when compared to T-55, T-62, and T-72 Ural, it is visible how advanta- geous the Merkava Mk 1 was. The Israeli "Chariot" was superior when it comes to firepower, as the opponent-MBTs had no fire control systems at their disposal, with inferior levels of accuracy, especially when on the move. M111 Hetz had no problem in penetrating the T-55 and T-62 turrets and hulls at a distance of 2 kilometers. The same could be said about the T-72 Ural hull. On the other hand - the front portion of Mer- kava could easily withstand hits when facing 100, 115, and 125 mm rounds available to Egypt and Syria at the time. The penetration could only occur when the weak points were hit (semi-circular turret base, gun cover, area in front of the driver), or in case of flanking fire. Merkava Mk 1 also had much better mobility, when compared to the aforemen- tioned platforms. When better crew training and command ability were taken into the account, it could have been stated that Merkava offered a significant advantage when fighting against the armored units of the neighboring states. The new tank also protected the crews well from the Shmel and Malyutka ATGMs, and Konkurs ATGM later on. The RPG- 7 also was not a weapon sufficient to neutralize the Merkava. The crew had a high chance of surviving a frontal hit - and this has been a qual- itative leap when compared to Patton or Centurion MBTs. The Syrian HOT 1 missiles have been the only serious threat. The above allows us to draw the following conclusion: although Merkava Mark 1 was not the best MBT in the world when it was born, it undoubtedly was the best MBT platform in the Middle East; when this was placed on the canvas formed by the good morale of the well- trained crews and efficient command processes, the MBT in question provided Israel with a major advantage over the enemy armor and an- ti-armor assets. Photo: Hezbollah array of anti-tank grenade launchers but also the modern Milan and HOT ATGMs. Contrary to the mythology surrounding that conflict, the Merkavas did not fight against the Syrian T-72s. They had to fight in an urbanized envi- ronment though - and they were not prepared to do that at all, design-wise. The final after-battle conclusions were positive, placing the new MBT on a pedestal, and becoming a foundation for a myth suggesting that Merkava is the safest MBT around. 45-50 Merkavas took hits, with several seriously damaged, but only 7 were lost irrecoverably - mainly due to the RPG hits taken to the sides and rear portion of the hull. One vehicle was destroyed in a night airstrike of the F-4 jets after it lost its mobility in an area that could have been controlled by the Syrians. One vehicle was lost after the HOT ATGM hit the hatch in the rear portion of the hull. Some MBTs were also damaged in friendly-fire incidents. The Merkavas could be easily repaired though. The statistical data gathered during that conflict has shown that there was a 41% chance that Merkava Mk 1's armor could be perforated. Nonetheless, only a 13% chance was associated with complete penetration of the armor. Only 15% of the Merkavas caught fire when hit. No explosion of ammunition was recorded in any case. For the sake of comparison, the statistics for the older Centurion and Magach MBTs operated by IDF were as follows: 61% probabil- ity of armor perforation, 30% probability that the projectile would enter the interior of the MBT, and 31% probability of a serious fire. One could conclude that crew protection levels, in the case of Merkava, have been greatly im- proved. Well-trained crews, with a fire control system and good ammunition at hand, turned out to be lethal when fighting against the Syrian T-55 and T-62 MBTs. The Merkava crews destroyed more than 70 of those. RATING Merkava Mark 1 was created as a result of the Israeli effort aimed at minimiz- ing the risk of another arms import embargo being imposed on the nation. The Merkava design was also inspired by the fights in the Yom Kippur war. High losses among the crews were unacceptable. None of the tested MBT designs (as well as the procured US-made MBTs) offered a sufficient level of protection. Chieftains were the best here - however, the fact that cooperation with the British abruptly ended in 1969 left the possible acquisition outside the range of options available. Despite everything, the number of MBTs pro- cured for testing, the support granted by the USA, and MBTs captured in the neighboring states all made it possible to comfortably compare and select solutions that were fitting, in the eyes of the Merkava designers. The lack of access to Western-style armor solutions, with a certain assumption made with regards to the protection level and priority placed on safety, all forced the designers to create a unique MBT design with some specific solutions adopted in the armor department. Furthermore, the Israeli heavy industry had no access to numerous key technologies at the time. The key experience available was gathered in the area of overhauls, not manufacturing. So, could the best MBT in the world be born in these circumstances? No. It is obvi- ous. And Merkava Mark 1 is far from this status. The Leopard 2A0 and M1 had much greater firepower. The same could be said about the fire control systems and firepower of the T-80B and T-64B. Great sabot rounds were the sole advantage that Merkava had. The mobility of the competing designs was also much better. Protection-wise the Israeli platform could be advan- tageous. If the armor was penetrated, Merkava protected its crew very well. But the level of protection was not better than the one offered by Abrams. The armor itself was weaker than in the case of the Merkava's counterparts. The turret had inferior protection against sabot rounds and HEAT rounds as well. The hull protection was also weaker against the sabot round, with in-

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