Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR)

 

ACPR Research Ė Summary

 

Tank Tops and Heavy Metal:
Armorís Enduring Appeal on the Modern Middle Eastern Battlefield

Rand H Fishbein, Ph.D.

Policy Paper No. 156,  2004

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.

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