The Israel-Hamas war is unprecedented in the history of Israel's warfare not only because of the number of civilians murdered and abducted but also because of the record number of rockets fired on Israel since October 7 and the use of anti-tank missiles by Hamas in fighting in the Gaza Strip. Despite this, the IDF's land maneuvers are progressing and one of the reasons for this is the introduction of the IDF's first company of Merkava Barak battle tanks.
The tanks are the fifth generation in the Merkava series, which were only introduced into the IDF's Armored Corps in September, when nobody expected that the tank's first big test would begin so soon. In contrast to the way that tanks are slowly integrated into foreign forces like the US army, which take a long time and involve various trial stages, in Israel the tanks are first operated in real time with adjustments made on the battlefield.
Teams at the Ministry of Defense Merkava and Armored Vehicles Directorate are in the field physically monitoring the performance of the new tanks. Their aim is to study every threat and attempt to strike at the tank, raise its weapons capabilities and talk with the tank teams about how to improve the tank and enhance its operational capabilities.
Brig. Gen. Oren Giber, commanding general of the Israeli Merkava and Armored Vehicles Directorate, tells "Globes," We are undergoing a learning curve over the years against an enemy that is trying to find the weak points in the IDF military, it doesn't happen in a day, but we constantly try to be several steps ahead of them."
"This process is deep and smart over many years and today the learning curve continues even amidst the war when it is more relevant than ever."
What is the price for a foreign army?
According to the Ministry of Defense, the cost of the Merkava Barak is similar to the Merkava 4. In other words, according to overseas reports, $3.5 million for the IDF and $5 million for foreign armies.
How can it be that the cost of the Merkava Barak is the same as the Merkava 4. The Israeli Merkava and Armored Vehicles Directorate breaks the tank down to more than 150 systems and components and managing the process like this enables them to more easily stick to an organized budgetary framework.
Another factor that helps keeps the costs of the new tank the same as the previous model is the reliance on Israeli companies and suppliers. The companies whose products are included in the manufacturing, from low-tech to high-tech, are all from Israel and this allows a greater control over costs and achieving lower prices. One such example is the air-conditioning company Beth-El Group.
Technological progress also helps reduce costs. Today you can find computers and technological means that provide a better response than their predecessors, which were the best technology 20 years ago, when the Merkava 4 was put into service.
One of the critical factors in reducing costs is related to the large Israeli defense companies, Elbit Systems (Nasdaq: ESLT; TASE: ESLT), Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which provide leading technological solutions on a global scale, but at cost price.
"Globes" has learned that sometimes prices for the Barak tank are just 25% of the price at which the same systems are sold to foreign customers. Beyond patriotic considerations, in Israel the systems prove themselves with high intensity in real time warfare, and become even more sought-after products overseas.
Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, former head of Southern Command, held a inaugural event with industry executives, in order to thank them for the success. He also spoke about the future in which dozens more Merkava Barak tanks are expected to be integrated annually into the IDF. Nevertheless, because a tank company has about 10 tanks, a battalion 30 and a brigade 100, it will still be some years until the fourth generation Merkava 4 will only be operated by reservists.
A technological leap forward
The Barak tank may be the world's leading tank in technological terms but it is still far from being the most expensive. The world's most expensive tank is France's Leclerc AMX 56, which costs $9.3 million. South Korea's Black Panther costs $8.5 million and India's Arjun tank costs $7.8 million.
Despite costing 'only' $5 million for foreign armies, Israel's Barak tank features unique technological capabilities, the most prominent of which is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Similar to the F-35 helmets manufactured by Elbit Systems, which provide the pilot with real-time information analysis, a similar feature is used in the Barak tank.
Elbit's Iron Vision system enables improved combat in densely built areas, and includes an integrated AI peripheral vision system and an advanced visor for the tank commander, which reflects what is happening outside the tank while integrating the relevant information on top of the image, with the ability to direct any device in the tank towards his eyes at the push of a button.
The tank systems receive information from the combat environment, from near and far, process it and translate it into relevant information for combat.
One of the interesting aspects of the Barak tank is that information processing is individually adapted to the person in command. For example, the perspective of the brigade commander is broader, and less concerned with micro-tactics. On the other hand, when an anti-tank shell is fired at a single tank, the focus of immediate attention is the anti-tank launcher. The diversity of combat situations and the various roles is a significant key. In battle, the professionals define the Barak tank as a technological leap forward when it comes to sensors, fusion and accessibility of information, while connecting to all the weapon systems.
The effectiveness of the Trophy protection system
Alongside the systems manufactured by Elbit is radar produced by Israel Aerospace Industries unit Elta Systems, which is one of the most famous brands of Israel's land forces. The Trophy pro-active protection systems is produced by Rafael.
This system is a major reason for the low number of Israeli casualties despite the unprecedented amount of anti-tank fire from Hamas, in one of the most densely built areas in the world. The Trophy protection system has been operational for about 13 years, and provides the tank with 360-degree protection with extremely high effectiveness. For this reason 2,000 such systems have been sold for 16 platforms in the world, including four divisions of the US Abrams tank, as well as the German Leopard and the British Challenger tanks.
"When we hand over to the IDF soldiers, the tank or the Tiger or Eitan APCs that we developed for them, there is a feeling that you have put your greatest treasure in their hands," says Brig. Gen. Giber. "We look at this armor with reverence because we are designing it for IDF soldiers. So we spare no effort and do everything possible to ensure that we have given them the best and most protected armament possible. You have to understand, the anti-tank shell threats confronting tanks and armored vehicles in the current war are enormous, I don't think anyone has seen anything like it before. The IDF's decision to provide its fighters with platforms that has a level of protection and durability that has no equal in the world, has proven itself."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 11, 2023.
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