Far from being a relic of the
past, the heavily armored main battle tank is redefining its place on the
modern battlefield. From Iraq and Afghanistan to the Palestinian
territories, the tank is displaying a new versatility that has once again
propelled it to the forefront of ground combat. A renaissance in technology
has made the venerable tank not only more lethal and maneuverable, but more
survivable as well.
The Middle East continues to
serve as the principal proving ground for new armor technology with
countries like Egypt, Jordan and Iran engaging in major upgrade programs.
The US remains one of the principal tank suppliers to the Arab states,
recently announcing that it will provide the latest version of the M1 Abrams
tank, the A2, to its allies.
Israel, by contrast, stands
at a crossroads in tank acquisition. With its defense budget under
increasing strain, there is mounting pressure from the government to
terminate production of the Merkava tank. Doing so, however, would have a
crippling effect on the nationís defense industrial base and most assuredly
on the ability of Israelís military leaders to address the growing threat of
urban insurrection now gripping the country.
It is imperative that the
Government commit to an economic rate of Merkava tank production of at least
50 vehicles per year to ensure a viable armor industrial base. Legacy
systems should be upgraded, where appropriate, and a robust research and
development program for armor maintained.
The Merkava remains an
essential part of Israelís export economy, generating income not only from
the sale of defense products and services overseas, but from the diffusion
of technology into the civilian sector as well.
The advent of more lethal
anti-tank weapons, attack aircraft and long range smart weapons has not
diminished the value of the tank. Rather, it has emphasized the need for
greater survivability and lethality on the modern battlefield. The ability
to seize and hold ground will forever remain at the heart of winning
strategy. The Middle East theater is no exception.
As Israelís adversaries
continue to improve their offensive systems its it is imperative that the
Jewish state not forget some of the hard won lessons of its past. Both
quality and quantity are both essential components of victory in a war
environment characterized by high attrition, beyond visual range engagement
and the need for precision strikes. The heavy tank is an answer to each of
these requirements, and as such, should remain an effective fighting tool
well into the 21st century.