Brigade 401 commander Col. Einav Shalev is confident in his unit's ability to meet any challenge thrown its way, whether in a full-out war or in any other capacity. "The Merkava Mark IV tank and the Windbreaker anti-tank missile defense system are very sophisticated," he told Israel Hayom as part of a series of interviews with Israel Defense Forces brigade commanders marking the 2012 enlistment class.
"Brigade 401 of the Armored Corps is the best-protected battalion on the planet. Having said that, there is no such thing as hermetic protection; there is no assurance against casualties," Shalev said.
Despite the difficulties, Brigade 401 holds an annual training exercise to keep its battle preparation at a high level.
"The exercise is extremely complex, very technological," Shalev explained. "During the exercise the soldiers and commanders see what the firepower of a tank is. If they've been on long, standard security operations tours near Gaza, they see one tank here and another tank there, but during the exercise they experience the power that an attacking tank brigade can produce."
It must be noted that the entire armored corps has undergone a significant overhaul in recent years and has returned to training on a regular basis after years of battle-readiness erosion prior to the Second Lebanon war in 2006. "The soldiers' readiness is very high, at least among the regular brigades," said Shalev.
"We entered the Second Lebanon War with some battalion commanders who were giving their first battalion-level orders. The first time they gave their entire battalion the order to 'move out' was during the war. Today the situation is completely different, the training schedule today allows for a high level of training," Shalev told Israel Hayom.
According to Shalev, the regular Armored Corps undergoes a great deal of training. In his opinion, if the corps fails to complete its mission in the next war, "it better have a very good reason." He added that the Armored Corps today can deal with a large war as well as with any other battle outline it is assigned to.
In regards to an eruption of armed hostilities in any of the new-old arenas in the Middle East and the possibility that the Armored Corps will find itself fighting against advanced Western-made tanks, Shalev said, "These are scenarios that were dormant for many years, and justifiably so. The wisdom of an army comes down to training its forces based on the analysis of the situation. You can't train everyone for everything."
Shalev went on to say that the Armored Corps has integrated many new technological advances into its ranks in recent years, some of which are classified. The primary technological advancement, however, is the Merkava Mark IV tank, equipped with the Windbreaker defense system.
"If they cease equipping us with this type of technology, the Armored Corps will become stagnant. The corps today is very powerful and strong, but the Merkava Mark II tank (used by Brigade 7) must be replaced; this is a very problematic issue. With that, what will ultimately save the soldiers on the battlefield is proper operational conduct. A Merkava Mark II crew that performs correctly has less chance of getting hit [by the enemy] than a Merkava Mark IV crew that doesn't conduct itself correctly."