Imagine a tank that can shoot a laser or an electromagnetic pulse. How about one that can drive on a hybrid engine – partly powered by electricity – instead of the loud diesel engines used today? These technologies and others are under consideration for integration into Israel’s future tank which the IDF hopes will be operational by 2020.

Last year, the IDF Ground Forces Command set up a team of combat and technical officers – from the Armored Corps, the Weapons Development Branch in the Ground Forces Command and the Defense Ministry’s Merkava Program Office – to begin planning Israel’s future tank, the successor to the Merkava.

Development and construction of the Merkava began in the 1970s, and the most advanced model, the Merkava Mk 4, entered service in 2003.

Currently, two brigades are equipped with the Merkava Mk 4, purported to be one of the best-protected tanks in the world and capable of superior speeds and maneuverability.

The rest of the IDF’s armored brigades operate older versions of the Merkava or M60 Pattons.

“When we look at what the future tank will look like, we need to look broadly at all technology that exists,” Brig.-Gen. Yigal Slovik, outgoing commander of the Armored Corps, said this week. “There are such things as electromagnetic or laser cannons, but right now they are too big and not applicable. They might however be in the future.”

For power, Slovik said that the tank could potentially operate on a hybrid engine that burns fuel to charge batteries that can then independently power the tank for extended periods.

Slovik said that the crew of the future tank would also likely be smaller than today, and as few as two soldiers could operate it.

“The future tank will ultimately be faster, better protected, more interoperable and more lethal,” he said.

The decision to begin developing a new tank was sparked by the entry of active-protection systems such as the Trophy, which has been installed on an entire brigade of tanks and successfully intercepted a rocket-propelled grenade along the Gaza border last year.

The thinking in the defense establishment is that tanks no longer require thick layers of armor – which slow down the vehicle, and raise fuel and production costs – and could suffice with less armor and more systems like Trophy.

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