In November Israel had its first direct clash with the Islamic State in the southern Golan Heights, and it was the Armored Corps which neutralized the threat.
The incident, which pitted the IDF against fighters of Shuhada al-Yarmouk, occurred on the morning of November 11 when soldiers from the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion came under fire in an ambush by both small arms and mortars by ISIS fighters.
Unit 74 of the armored corps understood the severity of the event and fired at the once UN-staffed outpost, eliminating the cell.
According to the IDF, along with the strike against the Islamic State cell on the Golan Heights, tanks from the Armored Corps have struck almost 19 targets since the beginning of 2016.
The Armored Corps has in recent years become one of the least popular units for new IDF recruits as they are said to have the worst service conditions and have fewer weekends off than other corps.
The IDF is also once again reexamining the possibility of integrating women in the Armored Corps’ tank brigades to help replace manpower lost due to a reduction in the mandatory service period for men.
According to the senior officer, the first recruitment for the army’s pilot project to see how suitable women would be to serve in tanks began at the beginning of the month and “the road ahead is still long,” and it will only be possible by next year if the project has succeeded.
During the pilot program, the 15 female recruits will receive four months of training dedicated to the task of protecting the borders, and then another four months in the Merkava 3, where they must be able to prove that they are able to operate every aspect of the tank, including lifting shells, driving, and firing.
Throughout all phases of the program, the recruits will be accompanied by experienced tank commanders, doctors, nutritionists and fitness experts, the senior officer said, stressing that the main issue is the physical abilities of the female recruits.
There would be no mixed-gender tank crews and female tank crews will not be part of battalions which would operate in enemy territory. Rather, they would only be deployed at the borders.
In addition, the Armored Corps is undergoing changes which will alter not only the face of the corps but the capabilities of its soldiers and tanks.
“Our enemies have changed, and therefore so have we,” a senior Armored Corps officer told military reporters on Thursday.
With regional developments changing significantly in the past few years, the armored corps are fighting more and more unconventional wars and facing new enemy tactics.
“While the Second Lebanon War had a big impact on the corps, it was Operation Protective Edge which had a significant impact on the corps and how we see ourselves in the future,” he said, stressing the need to adapt as technology continues to improve in order to stay relevant.
Cooperation between the armored corps, air force and navy has also changed due to the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, with all branches linked on the same network in order to simplify data and information sharing.
With more wars now fought in urban areas, accuracy is a challenging yet critical aspect, the senior officer said. As part of the updates to the tanks, all will be fitted with technologically advanced sensors.
“If we have an enemy in an open field, 20 meters difference is not a big deal, but when you are fighting in a urban area, 20 meters can mean hitting a home instead of the target you are aiming for. I want us to have accuracy of hitting a target within five meters.”
The defensive abilities of the armored corps are also different when fighting in an urban area as opposed to open fields.
The Merkava has an active protection system known as the Trophy Active Protection System which automatically and independently identifies any inbound threats before it reaches the armored vehicles. Once it identifies the threat, it intercepts and destroys incoming missiles or rockets with a shotgun-like blast.
The Trophy Active Protection System, developed by Rafael, proved its efficacy in dozens of operations, especially during Operation Protective Edge. According to the senior officer, all tanks will soon be outfitted with an upgraded Trophy Active Protection System system.
A new future tank, nicknamed “Lightning” is also currently being developed. Based on the Merkava 4, the new tank is set to be ready within the next few years and will be a “smart tank.”
“The technology in the new tanks will take the corps a step into the future,” the senior officer said. “It is technology that we could only dream about a few years back.”