Israel’s Merkava tank has been a success for years on the battlefield, but it has yet to conquer the terrain of foreign markets. Its makers haven’t given up.
“There are countries that want to buy the Merkava tank, but they are not countries that Israel can trade with. Since 2010, we’ve been trying to export the tank, but we haven’t made a deal yet,” Ministry of Defense Merkava Tank Program Administration director Brig.-Gen. Baruch Mazliach told Globes.
The decision was made four years ago to export the Merkava, in the hope of using revenues from the sales to expand production lines and research and development.
But the move to sell the tank abroad coincided with a shrinking market.
“Some of the world’s armies are reducing their tank forces, especially in Europe,” explained Matzliach. “While demand for tanks is growing in some Far Eastern and South American countries, the tanks being taken out of service in Europe are being sold at low prices to these markets, after upgrades, and it’s hard for us to deal with that, even though we’re offering a completely different platform, a war machine at another level.”
Matzliach is still optimistic, however, saying, “We will find a country that wants to procure the Merkava, and we’ll be able to continue developing this industry in Israel.”
Although some think the need for such armor is declining, that is not the case in Israel. “The IDF will need tanks in the coming years. Israel has hundreds of miles of land borders, and it is surrounded by enemies. Just as it must guarantee itself air supremacy, it must guarantee itself supremacy in battle on land. This supremacy is achieved only through good maneuverability, which is achieved by the Merkava Mk. 4 and the Leopard (Namer Merkava armored personnel carrier).
“While the chances of a tank-vs.-tank battle may be low, Israel still need tanks that can be integrated in other combat scenarios that are relevant to the current arena.”
Today, 35 years after the first Merkava tank rumbled out of the factory, its production has become a nationwide industry. 212 enterprises employing over 10,000 people are involved in the tank’s production.
Nevertheless, the sector’s future is by no means secure. In the past year, defense budget cuts have reduced activity by 25 percent.
“These conditions force us to protect our knowhow in armored vehicle development and production, and we’re constantly fighting to protect this knowhow. For every shekel that Israel invests in the Merkava, it makes four shekels in defense exports. Although we’re not exporting the tanks, we export components, and there is demand for them,” says Matzliach.