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Academy 1/35 Merkava Mk.IV Kit First Look

By Michael Benolkin

Date of Review February 2009 Manufacturer Academy
Subject Merkava Mk.IV Scale 1/35
Kit Number 13213 Primary Media Styrene, Photo-Etch
Pros First mainstream kit of this latest Israeli main battle tank; nice detailing Cons No interior
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $44.00

First Look


From its establishment in 1948, the armed forces of Israel have fought to retain its freedom and existence, sometimes against staggering odds. In the numerous conflicts that have fought since 1948, the Israelis were forced to obtain aircraft and armaments from a variety of second-hand sources. As Israel grew and began to prosper, it began to acquire new weapons for defense and was able to muster a modern force structure while keeping older weapons ready in reserve. When the weapons embargoes were put into place during the 1973 war, Israel started in earnest to develop its own defense industries to reduce its dependence on international sources. Today, Israel's technologies are second to none and now instead of importing all of its armaments, it exports these capabilities around the world.

In the arena of armor, Israel operated a variety of second-hand tanks, and while it standardized on the M4 Sherman and Centurion, these were upgraded and up-gunned as well. These tanks remained in service with the reserves as the M60 assumed front-line service, and all of these tanks proved their worth in the 1973 war against the Syrians. The Egyptians were far more formidable and the M60s (operating without infantry) suffered against the latest anti-tank guided missiles. The surviving (and salvaged) M60s were upgraded into the Magach series that employed progressively improved armor protection technologies.

Taking the lessons learned from the 1973 war and the technologies that evolved out of that conflict, Israel developed its first indigenous tank - Merkava (Chariot). The Merkava employed a number of innovative approaches to keep Israel's most valuable assets - its soldiers - safe. First, the engine compartment was moved to the front of the hull, so even a penetrating frontal shot would only disable the engine and still protect the driver further aft. Second, the turret was built low-profile so the tanks would not be spotted as early on the desert battlefield as the much taller M48 and M60 tanks. Third, the turret and frontal armor slope was less steep than other tank designs which provided more effective protection for the crew. In the rear of the Merkava where the engine would have been, a set of clamshell doors provide rear access for a squad of soldiers who can ride in the rear of the tank if needed.

In its first combat action in Lebanon in 1982, the running observation of the Merkava Mk.I was that it was a very effective tank, though it had serious braking problems - it wouldn't stop until it reached the outskirts of Beruit. Even so, the Merkava was designed for open battlefield combat and its actions inside Beruit revealed some needed improvements to support urban warfare. The Mk.II retained the original 105mm main gun, but added additional armor protection. The Mk.III followed with more engine power, improved drivetrain, and the 120mm main gun. The current version is the Mk.IV, which incorporates the latest in armor protection, new tracks, improved fire control, and digital command and control capabilities.

Academy has released the first mainstream kit of the Merkava Mk.IV. This model looked really nice in the test shot photos that circulated around the net as well as at the hobby shows. The final results out of the box are no less impressive.

This kit is molded in tan styrene and presented on five parts trees, plus separately provided upper and lower hull halves. A fret of photo-etched details rounds out this kit.

The detailing on this kit is right up to Academy's current (excellent) standards, and they've captured the structures of the applique armor around the front and sides of the turret. By the way, that turret is huge - look at the side of the turret ring on the bottom of the turret in relation to the ring on the upper hull. You won't be seeing any tank riders on the rear hull of this tank!

For some reason, Academy used an older lower hull mold for this kit or tooled this one with motorization holes. While there is one plug provided, you'll have to fill the others if you're so inclined.

Assembly of the lower hull is the usual task of suspension arms, road wheels and return rollers. What is different is the track. Rather than the usual vinyl (rubber band) track, the kit has styrene track sections that span the upper and lower runs of flat sections, and individual track links to connect up the upper and lower sections over the drive sprockets and return rollers. This approach reminds me of the similar approach ESCI used in its line of 1/72 tanks.

The turret is also straightforward in its assembly though there are lots of sensors and grab irons on this machine. The rear turret basket is a combination of styrene and photo-etch, which will look really nice after assembly and paint. The rear of the turret features the unique Merkava ball and chain shield to protect the rear of the turret from an RPG rear attack. This ball and chain armor is provided as photo-etch, with styrene ball halves to be superglued on either side of the photo-etch 'ball'.

The photo-etch set has ID plates for one vehicle as do the corresponding decals.

This release provides the latest main battle tank in service with the Israeli Army and it is a nice installment indeed. The layout is straightforward and the kit can be built with or without the photo-etched details (though you'll want these details). If you've collected Academy's previous Merkava release as well as the various IDF armor from DML, AFV Club, and others, you'll have the newest chapter in advanced armor here to add to your collection.

My sincere thanks to MRC for the review sample.