TEL AVIV (May. 15)
Israel has developed, successfully tested and is now producing a new 56-ton tank which is, in many ways, revolutionary in design, it was disclosed officially today. The tank, known as the Merkava (Chariot), presents an unusually low silhouette making it a difficult target even for sophisticated anti-tank missiles and affords maximum protection for its crew, according to the descriptions just released. The new tank carries special equipment against chemical warfare. It is hermetically sealed and carries an air conditioning system.
The Merkava has been tested on the Golan Heights and in the Sinai–rocky and sandy regions, respectively–and is now on the production line although it has not been delivered yet to the armored corps. The development of such a tank by Israel has long been rumored in professional publications, including the American Armed Forces Journal. Confirmation that it exists was made only after President Carter promised last week that the U.S. will continue to assist Israel to manufacture weapons for its defense.
The Merkava is driven by a 900 hp American-made engine manufactured by Teledyne Continental Motors. Otherwise it represents an entirely Israeli conception and design that has been in the making for seven years and is credited to Gen. (Res.) Israel Tal, the former armored corps commander who directed the giant tank battles of the Yom Kippur War.
FEATURES OF THE MERKAVA
The Merkava is heavier than the American Patton tank, the British Centurion or the Russian T-62. It is armed with a 105 mm. cannon which gives it fire power equal to that of any other tank but it is said to have greater mobility. Its flat turret makes for the lowest silhouette of any known tank. Its engine is in the front, allowing for a rear escape hatch for its crew, a revolutionary safety feature. The Merkava normally will carry a four-man crew but it can transport 10 fully equipped infantrymen in addition to a payload of 62 105 mm. shells.
Each new tank will cost about IL 7 million to produce which is less expensive than the British Chieftain or the projected new generation of American-West German tanks. But Israel has made a huge investment for its production. About IL 80 million was spent to adopt the Ordan steel plant to produce armored plate said to be impenetrable by any anti-tank projectiles now in the Arab arsenal. Another IL 140 million was invested in the assembly plant. About 100 Israeli factories and workshops are involved in manufacturing various parts for the Merkava.