On September 19, 2023, the Ministry of Defense of Israel unveiled the latest version of its Merkava main battle tank. The backbone of the IDF's Armored Corps, the Merkava first entered service in 1979. However, upgrades like the Trophy Active Protection System and the integrated Battle Management System have kept the tank at the forefront of the world's armored fighting vehicles. With the Mark 4 Barak variant, the Merkava is even more capable than before, and just in time to go to war with Hamas.
During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel suffered heavy armored casualties. This prompted the development of an indigenous tank designed specifically for the IDF with emphasis on crew survivability. To that end, the engine was placed at the front of the vehicle whereas most main battle tanks are powered by a rear-mounted engine. The engine serves as an extra layer of protection for the crew, especially the driver who sits forward in the hull. Additionally, freeing up space in the rear of the Merkava allows the crew to quickly enter and exit through clamshell doors behind the tank.
The Merkava first saw action during the 1982 Lebanon War. Going up against Soviet-made T-62 tanks, the Merkava proved to be more maneuverable, deadly, and survivable. Although it suffered losses during the war, frontal attacks by Soviet-made anti-tank missiles and RPGs were virtually ineffective against the Israeli tank. Since its introduction, the Merkava has been upgraded from the Mark I to the Mark 4 variant, introduced in 2004. Meaning lightning in Hebrew, the Barak is the latest version of the Mark 4.
The previous Merkava Mk 4M Windbreaker introduced the Trophy APS to the tank and began mass production in 2009. Entering service 14 years later, the Barak features an upgraded Trophy system as well as a direct energy system to counter drones and cruise missiles. Additionally, the Merkava's electronic suite was upgraded with 360-degree day/night camera coverage, new targeting sensors for faster acquisition and engagement, and even a helmet-mounted display for the tank's commander.
Manufactured by Elbit Systems, who jointly developed the F-35's Helmet Mounted Display with Rockwell Collins, Iron Vision is an augmented reality system that uses the 360-degree camera coverage to provide the tank commander with a virtual view outside the vehicle. Increased situational awareness of the crew improves both the Barak's survivability and lethality, especially in urban environments that the IDF trains to fight in.