The M1 Abrams was the best tank in the world for a long time – and its Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom combat record backed it up. But lately, Army officers are warning that other tanks are catching up, including Russia's T-14 and T-90, the British Challenger 2, and the Israeli Merkava IV.
Yeah, the Israelis have designed their own tank. According to waronline.org, the Merkava came about after the Israelis were unable to buy the British Chieftain main battle tank due to concerns from diplomats. Lessons learned from the 1973 Yom Kippur War were also applied to the tank's development. What emerged was something that protected its crew, had good firepower, and a lot of ammo storage. In fact, the crew protection aspect was heightened by a decision to put the engine at the front of the tank.
A tank crew in an M1A2 Abrams belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division completes tank gunnery qualification at Presidential Range in Swietoszow, Poland, January 27, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Micah VanDyke, 4th ID MCE Public Affairs/Released)
The latest version of the Merkava is the Merkava 4, with a 120m main gun and capacity for up to 48 rounds, according to Army-Technology.com. It also has a 60mm mortar – a unique weapon among tanks – as well as three 7.62mm machine guns. The tank, though, is slow, with a top speed of 29 miles per hour according to militaryfactory.com.
We're familiar with the M1 Abrams. It has a 120mm main gun with 40 rounds, a .50-caliber machine gun, and two 7.62mm machine guns. It is very tough (recall that in Desert Storm, this tank deflected T-72 main guns rounds fired from 400 meters away), but it is also fast – with a top speed of 42 miles per hour.
Merkava Mk IVm "Windbreaker" with Trophy APS during Operation Protective Edge. (IDF photo)
Crew training in both of these tanks is really a wash. The American Abrams crews are probably among the best in the world. So are the Israelis (in fact, during the Yom Kippur War, vastly outnumbered Israeli tanks held the line against a much larger Syrian force in the Battle of the Valley of Tears).
So, which tank wins? Much will depend on which tank's "game" is being played. If the Merkava is defending, it has the edge. This will be particularly true if the terrain forces a unit with Abrams tanks to come right at the Merkavas.
But if the fight is a mobile fight, then the Abrams' speed will give it the edge.