Skip to comments.A much more worrisome ambush
Posted on 03/15/2002 4:13:34 PM PST by liberallarry
Analysis By Arieh O'Sullivan
(March 15) - When Palestinian gunmen destroyed the first Merkava Mk III tank a month ago, the IDF rushed into damage control mode. It said the design of the tank actually saved the life of the gunner, as the explosion didn't set off the ammunition nor set the fuel alight as it blew the turret off.
It said no tank in the world could have withstood 100 kilos of high explosives detonating at its underbelly.
The armor experts found it hard to believe the tank fell into a trap. They called it bad luck. A subsequent inquiry spoke of examining the operational doctrine and making technical alterations to the Merkava Mk III.
But yesterday's ambush was much more worrisome than the one on February 14.
It showed the Palestinians were not just lucky in the first strike, and had even perfected their mines.
The explosion caused even greater damage to the $3 million, 60-ton tank than the first one, ripping it apart and setting its fuel alight. It's vaunted automatic fire detection and suppression system did not work, and two of its crew burned to death.
More than that, the second successful destruction of a Merkava Mk III calls into question the ability of the IDF to implement any lessons learned from the first attack.
"The Merkava is considered to be one of the best protected tanks in the world, but even this platform has weak points and this is one of its weak points [the Palestinians] were able to find," said Brig.-Gen. (res.) Chen Yitzhaki, a former armored division commander.
"In these kinds of wars, one of the most efficient moves is to change the routine and not always drive on the same road, and move at different hours," Yitzhaki said.
He said the IDF has to examine why it was unable to detect the mine and neutralize or detonate it.
Senior IDF officers were quick not to draw parallels between the two attacks.
"This incident does not necessarily have the same characteristics and results of the previous incident," said Brig.-Gen. Zvika Fogel, chief of staff in the Southern Command. "We have something to learn from this incident on the way we operate tanks on this front.
"We are examining the lessons we have to learn and will implement what will give an answer to the threat, which is repeating itself."
He said the army is now considering changing the way it uses tanks on this front.
"We are at the initial stages of the inquiry," Fogel said. "I suggest we wait for it to be finished and not hurry and make declarations, which don't serve us well."
When the Palestinians destroyed the first tank and proved it wasn't invincible, it was obvious they were going to try to do it again.
The IDF prides itself in its ability to adapt quickly to the changing battlefield. But it made no radical changes in how it operates tanks on the Karni-Netzarim road.
It appears that the attackers used the same kind of bomb they did last month, when they stuffed nearly 80 kilograms of explosives into an empty water heater and detonated it under the tank.
"In truth, the results here are a flaw, without a doubt," Yitzhak told Israel Radio. "Just as we are learning the methods of the terror organizations, they too are learning our methods. In this kind of war, it's a sort of Ping-Pong game."
The Merkava Mk III was built, with the lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War in mind, to give the crew maximum protection. For this reason, it is the only modern tank with the engine mounted in the front. It also has no hydraulic system which can ignite, using electric motors to turn the turret.
Jane's Intelligence Review says the IDF has 700 Merkava Mk IIIs, and more than NIS 20 billion has been spent on the Merkava project since the mid-1970s. More than 100 factories participate in its production. The Merkava costs about $3 million each, definitely not one of the world's most expensive tanks.
That's been my concern.
Al Qaeda delighted in blowing up soviet tanks.
The first time I saw that I said, "Holy sh..!" There wasn't *anything* left, as far as I could tell.
Doesn't sound so sophisticated to me.
It's only the media acting like losing one tank is some sort of shock or crisis.
Traditionally, tank losses in battle are enormous, but fortunately the loss rates among the tank crews are fairly light, typically...at least some, or often all, of the crew escape a destroyed tank.
The Israelis lost plenty of tanks in the 1973 War, for example. They haven't had enough really serious full-scale combat since, to lose plenty of Merkavas, since they were developed after that war.
(Of course, I only want to know if you don't have to kill me after you tell me...)
Chopper flying buddies in the 80's always referred to them as "Targets" not "Tanks."
Providing the international community - of which the United States is only a part - doesn't tie their hands. That's what's been worrying me from the beginning. After each successful local war Israel has had its hands tied.
The term "Plinking tanks" use by AF and Navy fliers to describe taking them out with laser guided bombs and other PGMs during the Gulf War, drove the Army Track Toads a little crazy. AF types used to say, if it moves or radiates, you can "see" it and if you can see it, you can kill it.