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How the M1 Abrams could be improved

The Israeli Merkava might be a good focal point!

By Jonathan BowlerPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Standing in front of an M1 Abrams after graduation from Drill Sergeant School in 2018.

Disclaimer: I originally wrote this essay a month ago for an assignment in Advanced Leader's Course. I actually rather enjoy the time I spent on it, and figured I would expand out the audience. There is always a way to improve even the visibly greatest vehicles. These are my views on how the Abrams can get better!


Around the world, countries regard the M1 Abrams as the best main battle tank (MBT), and in many ways it is! However, the Israeli Merkava MBT has many features that are better configured than even the M1 Abrams. If the Department of Defense took key elements from the Israeli Merkava, it would create the top-tiered tank in the world, that can’t be contended with. With battle-proven designs, such as the Trophy active-protection system, or TAPS, (Frantzman, 2021), why hasn’t the United States created its own similar system to blast away incoming anti-tank grenades and missiles? This essay was written to address issues within the M1 Abrams that prevent it from being the best MBT currently on the market.

Keywords: Tanks, M1 Abrams, Merkava, Main Battle Tank

In 1991 when Desert Storm/Desert Shield happened, my dad was an air medic with the Air Force, flying on the back of C-130 aircraft. He flew in and out of Kurdish camps picking up wounded Iraqi citizens that had been gassed from Saddam Hussein. During this time, we happened to be living in Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. It was during this time that I saw my very first Army tank in person: The M1A1 Abrams. From that moment, I was in love and continued to have a dream of being a tanker. In my senior year of high school, I joined the Army as an M1 Armor Crewman, and two weeks after graduating high school, I set off for Fort Knox, KY. It was an amazing experience and continued to transition to being a tanker on the Mobile Gun System Stryker variant. While in Iraq, I came across the Israeli Merkava main battle tank, and quickly realized, after a case study of the 6-day war, that the Merkava had many better features than the Abrams. The Israeli Merkava is superior due to an upgraded suspension system, a lower and sleek hull design, and counter-measures that are sophisticated enough to destroy anti-tank grenades and missiles, as well as incoming tank rounds.

The suspension system inside a tank is everything for someone who lives in there, day-in and day-out. On a deployment, or even during training exercises, tankers can go weeks inside their tank if the mission dictates it as a requirement. In most cases, however, it is normally just 24-48 hours at the most. If you’re living inside your tank for those long stretches, however, you want to make sure that the suspension system is going to keep you safe. The Merkava 4 main battle tank’s suspension system keeps the crew safe by only allowing the tank to reach capacities of g-1 (Eshel, 2003). Just as how aircraft are designed, the higher the g force, the more pressure there is on the body. Capacities above g-4 could cause long-term damage to the body, and ultimately cause unconsciousness to the crew. With a lot of Abrams crew members, just after several years in the service, there is a lot of complaints about spinal injuries due to a more rugged suspension system. The Merkava IV is also designed to go over rougher terrains at steeper inclines. In comparison to the Abrams, the Merkava has a wider track with larger wheels, reducing the probability to break the track (Eshel, 2003).

Another design feature that makes the Merkava IV better than the M1 Abrams is the lower, sleek hull design. If you compare the two side-by-side, you instantly notice a smaller, more angular shape that the Merkava has, as to where the Abrams has a large silhouette with blocky features. The Merkava IV is nothing short of an alien spacecraft that you might see on the movie Independence Day! The sharp angles that the Merkava presents cause rounds to bounce off of the hull, keeping the crew safe. One major difference between the Merkava and any other MBT in the world is that the engine is placed in the front of the vehicle, near the driver, keeping the back of the tank open to carry more rounds or carry personnel short distances (Mizokami, 2020). Finally, due to a lower silhouette, the Merkava IV is able to hide on hills and is less likely to be seen while at a longer distance, whether to the naked eye or through a thermal sight (Roblin, 2020). Just having space to carry additional personnel would be a small bonus for an MBT if the tank wasn’t able to defend itself, which brings us to the final point in this persuasive essay: the Merkava’s ability to destroy anti-tank missiles and grenades is nothing short of revolutionary (Defenseupdate, 2013).

If you’ve played any games, such as Call of Duty, you will know one of the most popular equipment pieces you can equip in objective-based missions (such as capture the flag, domination, and headquarters) is the Trophy. In Call of Duty, the Trophy is a device you throw on the ground that sends a shotgun blast up in the air when there’s a grenade or rocket shot at you. However, did you realize this is real technology? It is, in fact, called TAPS, or Trophy active-protection system. Battle-tested in the Gaza strip in 2011, the Israeli military has designed defensive equipment that provides 360-degree protection and continues to expand on it (Frantzman, 2021). The TAPS is the very first of its design and the first to successfully prove the possibility of being able to intercept an incoming rocket. There are radars that are placed on all four sides of the Merkava. When it detects that the missile, grenade, or tank round is incoming, it sends a “ping” of sorts to the tank crew’s radar and sends a shotgun round, also known as Multiple Explosively formed penetrator, or MEFP, to destroy it (Frantzman, 2021). While the technology of the MEFP has been around since the early 1990s, its first true implementation was with the TAPS (Fong, 2004). More recently, there have been more countries attempting to recreate the TAPS, but no country has come close to the same type of success that Israel has.

There is no telling when main battle tanks could become obsolete. China has continued to attempt to create a power similar to the German WWII capabilities. However, Israel reins superiority as proven in the 6-day war, which, by all accounts, should have been a total defeat for their forces. Instead, Israel has created superior technology that has created full protection for the MBT to include the TAPS, a lower and sleek design, and an upgraded suspension that keeps crews comfortable and pain-free for years. If you are looking for any more reasons on why the Merkava is rightfully superior to the Abrams MBT, look no further than a quick Google Image search. If the photos alone can’t convince you, then my reasonings here should be more than enough.


Fong, Richard, et al. (2004, December 1). Multiple explosively formed penetrator (MEFP) warhead technology development. Defense Technical Information Center.

Defenseupdate. (2013, January 21). Rafael Trophy Family – Active Protection Systems [Video]. YouTube.

Frantzman, Seth J. (2021, March 10). 10 Years Fighting: Israel’s Revolutionary Trophy Is a Tank ‘Shield’. The National Interest.

Roblin, Sebastien. (2020, September 3). The Abrams vs. Israel’s Merkava: which tank would win a fight? The National Interest.

Mizokami, Kyle. (2020, November 18). How Good is the Merkava Tank? (Pretty Good, It Turns Out). The National Interest.

Eshel, David. (2003, January/February). The Merkava Mk 4 – Israel’s Newest MBT Enters Service. ARMOR. 45-47.


About the Creator

Jonathan Bowler

Husband | Father | System Administrator | Warrant Officer Select | Sec+/Server+ ITIL certified | Patriot |

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