The Israeli Army's first use of the American-made tracked, self-propelled 155mm M109 system was against Egyptian forces in the 1973 Yom Kippur War (followed by its 1982 and 2006 involvement in the Lebanon Wars). With a stock of M110 203mm systems also on hand, the Army was quick to realize the importance of mobile, ranged artillery on the modern battlefield against various target types and employed these systems with great efficiency in the conflicts that followed the country since.
In 1978, Israeli industry delivered to the IDF its first indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) in the "Merkava" ("Chariot") and several thousand examples have been delivered to date in progressively improved battlefield forms (Mk I to Mk IV) and specialist vehicles relying on the basic Merkava framework. One Merkava offering that failed to materialized in production became the "Sholef" ("Slammer") by Soltam. Work on this Merkava off-shoot was primarily conducted from 1984 to 1985 though the program had roots as far back as the 1970s. The vehicle, based on the Merkava chassis and its proven running gear, was a 155mm-armed Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH) with a traversing turret holding the primary armament. In many ways, the form and battlefield function of the Sholef mimicked that of the American M109 series.
The Sholef was built upon the existing chassis of outgoing Merkava Mk I stocks and fitted an automatic loader (reducing the crew by one - the American M109 uses six personnel), GPS, and a digital Fire Control System (FCS) to allow for "firing on-the-move". The end result was a 45-ton system with an all-new welded-steel turret superstructure added over the rear of the Merkava hull. The powerpack sat at front-right with the driver at front-left (the original Merkava already positioned the engine at the front of the vehicle, contrary to what is seen in Western and Russian tank designs). The massive, long-barreled gun overhang the bow considerably so an A-frame hinged support piece was set at the bow to support / lock the weapon when in transport. The weapon was capped by a large multi-baffled muzzle brake to help dampen recoil some. As with the running gear of the Merkava, the Sholef featured six double-tired road wheels to a hull side. The drive sprocket remained at front with the track idler at rear. A sole track return roller was featured for managed of the upper track run.
Internally, the vehicle held storage for seventy-five 155mm projectiles and a machine gun could be fitted to the turret roof for local Anti-Aircraft (AA) or anti-infantry defense as needed. Standardized equipment included a full Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) protection suite, Inertial Navigation System (INS), and LCD interface. Autonomy was built-in wherever possible to help streamline operational capabilities of the vehicle and crew even further than what was the expected norm.
Despite the work put into the Sholef program, the IDF eventually decided against it and favored a modernized version of the original Vietnam War-era M109 from the United States. This left just two Sholef prototypes completed.
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