Israel deploys Merkava-based Ofek armored command vehicle

As reported by Warnerd on October 9, 2023, in response to the recent incursion by HAMAS fighters into Israeli territory on October 7, 2023, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deployed a convoy of Merkava Mark IV tanks to the Gaza Strip. Among these battle tanks, one specific armored vehicle has attracted the attention of military observers - the heavy armored personnel carrier (TBTR) known as "Ofek" based on a Merkava Mark II tank. This vehicle plays a crucial role within the IDF, serving as an armored command and control vehicle, contributing significantly to the coordination and direction of military operations.
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Israel deploys its Merkava-based Ofek armored command vehicle to the Gaza Strip (Picture source: IDF and Twitter)

The Ofek heavy armored personnel carrier, a product of a conversion process initiated in 2015, repurposes the chassis of outdated Merkava Mark II and Mark III tanks, which were no longer in active service and had been stored in substantial numbers. This initiative was motivated by the recognition of the potential utility of these obsolete tanks and the need to provide enhanced protection for troops in various operational roles.

Besides its unique role, the Merkava chassis serves as the foundation for other armored vehicles in the IDF, including the Nemmera armored recovery vehicle, the Sholef 155 mm self-propelled howitzer, and the Namer heavy infantry fighting vehicle. The Ofek primarily supports select forces within the IDF, including medical, logistical, and rescue units, complementing the use of Namer and Achzarit (based on a T-55 tank) heavily armored personnel carriers primarily utilized by infantry units.

In August 2018, the IDF revealed images and information highlighting the advanced command and control capabilities of the Ofek. The vehicle maintains continuous digital or voice communications with platoon elements, forward observers, fire support teams, and higher headquarters. These communication systems underscore the Ofek's pivotal role in facilitating effective command and control within a tactical environment.

Moreover, the Ofek's significance extends to its function as a critical communications conduit and relay within the IDF's armored formations. Its capabilities enable secure and physically protected satellite uplink and local network relays, providing Israeli units with an advantage across a range of combat scenarios. This advantage is particularly pronounced in challenging environments, including densely populated urban areas and complex terrains like hills and mountains, where conventional line-of-sight communications often fall short.

The IDF's ongoing modernization efforts, are characterized by the integration of advanced technologies like the Iron Vision helmet-mounted augmented reality system and improved network connectivity in existing Merkava Mark IV tanks complementing Ofek's role in enhancing communication and data-sharing networks. The Ofek, particularly in its command vehicle variant, emphasizes command, control, and coordinated combined warfare capabilities. Strategically positioned near the front lines, the "Ofek Command" fulfills essential command and control functions within a tactical context.

With a crew capacity of two individuals and the ability to accommodate approximately 10 dismounts, the Ofek is a versatile and capable armored personnel carrier. Troop ingress and egress are facilitated through the original rear hatch of the Merkava Mark II tank, supplemented by additional roof hatches for increased flexibility.

The level of protection offered by the Ofek is believed to be on par with that of the Merkava Mark II main battle tank, explaining its weight of approximately 60 tons. The design of the Ofek incorporates a sizable superstructure atop the hull in place of the original turret, which includes the integration of cage armor to provide additional protection against RPG-7 anti-tank rounds. Additionally, the vehicle is likely equipped with jamming equipment designed to counter radio signals used for detonating roadside bombs, enhancing its survivability in asymmetric warfare environments. This protection extends to guarding against direct fire and artillery splinters, enhancing the vehicle's survivability on the battlefield.

The Ofek armored vehicle is also equipped with energy-absorbing seats produced by Mobius Defense Solutions, an Israeli company specializing in life-saving and energy-absorbing systems for military vehicles. These seats have been designed to meet the operational requirements of the IDF and encompass a fire-resistant foam and padding system, a blast protection system to withstand explosions, and a suite of ergonomic features for enhanced comfort and functionality. Additionally, available information suggests that the company has leveraged its expertise in advanced materials to bolster the seat's overall capabilities.

The armament on the Ofek heavy armored personnel carrier includes at least one 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the roof, further bolstering its defensive capabilities. The vehicle is powered by a Teledyne Continental AVDS 1790-6A air-cooled diesel engine, generating 908 horsepower. This engine configuration, with an Ashot Ashkelon 4-speed automatic transmission, is strategically front-mounted to provide added protection for both the crew and dismounted troops.

In terms of mobility, the Ofek has a maximum road speed of approximately 50 km/h and a range of around 500 km. Additionally, it can traverse gradients of up to 60%, side slopes of 40%, negotiate vertical steps of around 1 meter, and ford depths of approximately 1.4 meters.

Ofek Command Vehicle 925 002

The Ofek is based on the Merkava Mark II Main Battle Tank (Picture source: Wikimedia)