‘Extraordinary Leap Forward’: Israel Unveils Cutting-Edge, 5th-Gen Main Battle Tank – Merkava Mark 5

On September 19, Israel unveiled its next-generation main battle tank, Merkava Mark 5, also known as “Barak,” which translates to “lightning” in Hebrew.

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The Israeli Defense Ministry said that after a five-year development period, they had delivered the first models of “5th generation Merkava battle tanks” to the 52nd Armored Battalion belonging to the 401st Brigade. 

In a statement, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the introduction of the Barak tank marks an “extraordinary leap forward” into an innovative era for the Israeli Defense Forces. He added that this development underscores the Israel Defense Forces’s impressive technological capabilities, which consistently ensure its qualitative edge.

The Barak tank is the result of a collaborative effort between the Defense Ministry’s Armored Vehicles Directorate and the IDF’s Ground Forces and Armored Corps. 

It incorporates advanced systems created by multiple Israeli defense companies, including Elbit Systems, Rafael, and the Israel Aerospace Industries’ subsidiary, Elta, along with other firms.

This handout photo, released September 19, 2023, shows a new IDF Barak tank. (Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces)

In 2015, the Defense Ministry, in conjunction with the military, started a research initiative to design a cutting-edge tank tailored specifically for the Armored Corps. 

The development phase officially kicked off in 2018, followed by successful preliminary tests in 2020 to guarantee the tank’s effectiveness. In the past few months, the IDF has received the initial models of this 5th generation cutting-edge tanks. 

Building upon their extensive expertise in designing, developing, and manufacturing earlier Merkava models, such as the Mk 1, Mk 2, and Mk 3 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), Israel subsequently unveiled the upgraded Merkava Mk 4. 

The Merkava 5, in turn, represents a further refinement of the Merkava IV, incorporating cutting-edge technologies and advancements in both protective measures and digital combat capabilities. 

The Merkava’s overall design closely mirrors that of the Merkava IV, featuring a driver’s position situated on the left side of the hull, a turret located at the rear of the hull, and the engine positioned at the front. This tank is crewed by four individuals, including a driver, commander, gunner, and loader.

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The Israeli Ministry of Defense (MoD) has also unveiled a series of photographs and a YouTube video showcasing the capabilities of this new tank.

In addition to these visual presentations, the video provides a detailed description of the advanced features incorporated into this cutting-edge vehicle. 

The Ministry has indicated that the Barak tanks come equipped with an extensive network of dependable sensors designed for target detection.

Furthermore, this intelligence information can be seamlessly shared between the tank and various other branches of the military, a development described as a “real revolution on the battlefield.” 

The introduction of the Barak tank will enhance enemy detection capabilities and empower combat operations against adversaries with reduced signature across a wide spectrum of combat scenarios, the Ministry noted. 

This handout photo was released on September 19. 2023 shows new IDF Barak tanks. (Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces)

This capability will prove effective both on the present-day battlefield and in future scenarios, addressing all the diverse threats faced by maneuvering forces.

The tank commander will be equipped with a helmet known as IronVision, developed by Elbit, resembling those used by fighter jet pilots. This advanced helmet offers a full view of the tank’s surroundings and provides essential information regarding ongoing combat operations.

Elbit has described IronVision as capable of generating an image allowing the crew to “see through” the tank’s armor. This will enable soldiers to overcome inherent visibility challenges, thereby enhancing mission effectiveness and safety.

This system will offer full 360-degree scanning simply by moving the head, and it can swiftly identify targets in real time by utilizing artificial intelligence capabilities.

Elbit has enhanced the Barak tanks’ optics and night vision systems, a notable upgrade over prior Merkava iterations. The defense company has also introduced a state-of-the-art touchscreen interface inside the tank, which offers relevant information to each crew member. 

These innovations empower soldiers to engage in combat with the tank fully enclosed, eliminating the need for open hatches. This marks a departure from earlier Merkava models, where the tank commander faced vulnerability to sniper fire or had limited visibility of the surroundings.

The Barak tanks feature the advanced Windbreaker missile defense system, developed by Rafael, which is currently used on older Merkava tank models and Namer armored personnel carriers. 

This system, known as Trophy outside Israel, comprises a radar detection system for identifying incoming missiles, predicting their paths, and launchers that discharge metal pellets, diverting the missiles away from the tank.

Furthermore, the Barak tanks have seen a substantial enhancement in firepower, elevating the military’s overall lethality. Elbit’s fire control system, integrated into the tanks, allows for precise attacks both when stationary and in motion, day or night, with expanded effective ranges.