Some 20 years after the deployment of the Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava Mark IV tanks, its next iteration, the Mark V Barak (Lightning) – which has been in development by the Defense Ministry for the last five years – recently finished a one-month trial run in a unit belonging to the IDF’s Armored Corps.
In the coming months, combat units in the Armored Corps will receive several more of these models, ahead of their first official deployment on Israel’s northern border with Syria.
The new tank will be based on the previous Merkava platform but with significantly enhanced survivability and defensive capabilities. It will include features such as a windbreaker (anti-tank missile protection system), and will have the ability to detect and engage enemy threats, such as anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), even before they are fired, allowing for rapid response and interception.
The tank will be crewed by four soldiers, with a loader responsible for tasks beyond simply loading ammunition, which remains a manual process, as is common in current tank designs. The loader will assist in target acquisition using new technologies that scan the battlefield through advanced sensors and cameras integrated into the tank, providing enhanced situational awareness.
"This will be the most advanced tank in the world, with a high-quality sensor system based on artificial intelligence for enemy detection and an intuitive and user-friendly interface for the crew, and deadly weapon systems," according to Brig. Gen. Oren Giber of the Defense Ministry. "We’ve created an unbreakable armored platform, with all of its software infrastructure designed for continuous improvement and upgrading in future versions."
Giber added that top-of-the-line camera setups on the tank will allow the tank’s crew to navigate and fight in tight spaces safely, saying the new tank will become the land version of the F-35 fighter jet.
The Merkava Mark V’s systems will feature an operational application store, allowing each crew member to specify their role and rank before launching an operation. Accordingly, the tank will adapt itself within seconds to meet the requirements and capabilities required by the different soldiers commanding it.
The IDF’s Armored Corps explained that a pair of Merkava Mark V tanks would be able to perform tasks that previously required an entire company or platoon of armored vehicles. With its advanced connectivity capabilities, Barak tanks will provide real-time intelligence about targets while on the move, both for themselves and for nearby forces.
The tank’s driver will have an advanced and intelligent navigation system, developed by the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, resembling a more advanced version of the Waze application. It will provide the driver with safe and secure routes through enemy territory, avoiding exposure to ATGMs and traversing any type of terrain, including mountainous or urban areas.
The rest of the crew will operate the tank and its weapon systems through a 21-inch multi-touch screen, which will display real-time enemy locations and IDF force positions.
"The tank crews will need to operate the tank slightly differently,” explained Brig. Gen. Hisham Ibrahim, commander of the IDF’s Armored Corps. "The tank's familiar 120mm cannon and ammunition will remain, and the Mark V’s implementation will be gradual. It's no longer just a tank; this technology will become a fifth member in the tank’s crew."