Advanced sensors, high-tech helmet: Israel’s 5th generation battle tank revealed

First Barak tanks handed over to Armored Corps after five years of development by IDF, Defense Ministry and several Israeli arms manufacturers

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

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

The Defense Ministry and Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday revealed the military’s new main battle tank, the Barak, following five years of development.

The first models of what the ministry called “5th generation Merkava battle tanks” were delivered to the 52nd Armored Battalion of the 401st Brigade.

The Barak tank was developed jointly by the Defense Ministry’s Armored Vehicles Directorate and the IDF’s Ground Forces and Armored Corps, and includes systems developed by several Israeli defense firms, including Elbit Systems, Rafael, and the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta subsidiary, among other companies.

In 2015, the Defense Ministry and military began research into developing a new tank for the Armored Corps, with development beginning in 2018. In 2020, initial tests were carried out, and in recent months, the first tanks were delivered to the IDF.

The ministry said the Barak tanks are equipped with “a wide infrastructure of reliable sensors” to detect targets, and intelligence information can be shared between the tank and other parts of the military, which will be “a real revolution on the battlefield.”

“The Barak tank will strengthen the capabilities of detecting enemies and will enable fighting against an enemy with a reduced signature and in all combat scenarios, on the current and future battlefield, against the entirety of threats that exist for the maneuvering force,” the ministry said.

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

The tank commander would be equipped with a helmet developed by Elbit — similar to a fighter jet pilot’s helmet — that gives them a full view of their surroundings and displays relevant information about ongoing fighting.

Elbit said the helmet, dubbed IronVision, “generates an image that enables the crew to ‘see through’ the vehicle’s armor” and will help the soldiers “overcome inherent visibility limitations, while improving mission efficiency and safety.”

“The system will allow 360-degree scanning by moving the head and locating targets in real-time with the help of artificial intelligence capabilities,” the ministry said.

The Barak tank commander’s helmet, as seen in a video published by the IDF in 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Elbit developed improved sights, as well as more advanced night vision for the Barak tanks, compared to previous Merkava models. The defense firm also provided a new touchscreen-based user interface for the tank, which displays relevant information to each individual crew member.

These systems enable soldiers to fight while the tank is completely sealed, with no hatches open, unlike in previous Merkava models where the tank commander would either be vulnerable to sniper fire or be less able to see his surroundings.

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

Barak tanks also include an advanced missile defense system, the Windbreaker, developed by Rafael, which is currently deployed on older models of the Merkava tank and Namer armored personnel carriers.

The Windbreaker, which is inexplicably known as the Trophy system outside of Israel, is made up of a radar detection system that spots incoming missiles and predicts their trajectories, and launchers that fire buckshot-like metal pellets, which cause the incoming missile or rocket to detonate away from the tank.

The ministry said the Barak tanks’ firepower has also received a “significant upgrade,” increasing the “lethality” of the military. The fire control system, developed by Elbit, enables “accurate attacks while idle and while moving” during the day or night, with improved ranges, according to the defense firm.

“The Barak tank has capabilities and means to close circles of fire between all the forces fighting on land and in the air, in a way that will reduce time and increase accuracy in battle,” the ministry said.

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that it was “symbolic” that the tank was being announced as Israel marks 50 years since the 1973 Yom Kippur War “and the heroic battles fought by the Armored Corps soldiers in defense of our country.”

“We receive further proof of the relevance and power of the tank as a fundamental and decisive factor in land maneuvering,” Gallant said in a statement.

He said the Barak tank was “an extraordinary leap forward” in the Armored Corps capabilities that “guarantee the IDF’s qualitative advantage every time, in defense and attack.”

The Merkava has been the IDF’s main battle tank since the 1980s. In recent years, the Armored Corps replaced most of its Merkava Mark 3 models with the more modern Mark 4, introduced in 2003. The Barak will eventually become the Armored Corps main battle tank, according to the ministry.

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