Night Fire: Israeli forces, above, fire the 120mm Keshet recoil mortar system, part of the Artillery Corps' evolution into a networked precision attack unit able to even engage in urban warfare. (Elbit)
TEL AVIV — Israel’s Artillery Corps is revamping weaponry, doctrine and institutional culture to transition from a supporting actor in maneuvering war to a center-stage performer of precision, standoff attack.
No longer the saturation-centric force that fired off 170,000 rounds to little effect in the 2006 Lebanon War, today’s Artillery Corps aspires to “one-shot, one-target” accuracy. It is transforming itself, officers and industry experts here said, for network-enabled roles and missions, including targeted killings and even urban war.
“Artillery comes in mass, but the future, the not-too-distant future, is one shot, one target,” said Brig. Gen. Roy Riftin, the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) chief artillery officer.
New weapons, an expanding digital C4 network that links artillery to armor and infantry, and upgrades to existing inventory are driving new doctrine, operational concepts and a rewritten mission statement.
With network-enabled UAVs to replace traditional fire control officers to direct fire from increasingly accurate guns and extended-range rockets, Israel’s Artillery Corps is positioning itself to share in operations formerly reserved for airpower.
“It shouldn’t be only the Air Force or, to a much lesser extent, the Navy, that destroys targets from standoff range,” an Army officer said.
In addition to precision standoff attacks against fixed targets, the Ground Force officer said combined arms warfare will soon be able to deal with time-sensitive moving targets some 40 kilometers away.
“Because our firepower is so significant, we can allow ourselves to take on additional missions, such as targets of opportunity,” said the IDF’s chief gunner. “These targets pop up quickly and then disappear. But if I’m fast enough and precise enough, we can effectively destroy them with the first round or the first rocket.”
The corps’ proposed mission statement and accompanying doctrine will be presented to IDF brass this month in the run-up to General Staff deliberations on its latest five-year spending plan, dubbed Teuza (valor). It is expected to relegate its traditional close-support mission for maneuvering forces to second-tier status while accenting destroying enemy targets through precision standoff attack.
In parallel, the corps is finalizing what it calls Fire2025, a strategic investment plan for firepower that is precise yet flexible for use across the operational spectrum. The Artillery Corps and Israel’s Ground Forces Command are lobbying to include key elements of Fire2025 in the IDF’s Teuza spending plan for 2014-2018.
Top priorities include:
■ A new acquisition program to replace 50-year-old M109 howitzer guns.
■ Precision guidance kits for its inventory of 155mm shells
■ A new vehicle-mounted tactical radar to be co-located with its autonomous Keshet recoil mortar system.
■ Replacing cluster munitions with a unitary charge, GPS-guided dispersion munition for launch from the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS).
■ Additional Elbit Systems-developed Skyrider tactical UAVs to expand from battalion- to brigade-level “eyes in the sky.”
■ New, environmentally friendly smoke shells to replace current 155mm shells containing elements of legally permissible, yet image-damaging, phosphorus.
But given prescribed budget cuts and projected institutional resistance from the Air Force and Navy, industry executives said the Army should expect an uphill slog.
“If we can detect the exact location of targets, add smart fuses that precisely navigate regular [155mm] projectiles and a new generation of longer artillery tubes, then you’ll be looking at a real revolution in the fires arena,” said retired Brig. Gen. Shmuel Yachin, a former defense research and development director who coordinates land systems programs at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
IAI and Jerusalem-based BAE Systems Rokar are competing to equip standard 155mm shells with precision navigation kits.
IAI’s Top Gun is in advanced full-scale development, while Rokar has conducted “dozens of firing tests” on its Silver Bullet, a company source here said.
Digital Fire Support Officer (FSO)
After almost three years of nearly continuous tactical UAV operations, the corps is embracing the concept — co-developed by Elbit and the IDF’s Ground Forces Command — of digital FSOs to designate targets for infantry, armor and its own fire battalions.
First tested last spring with the corps’ Golan Brigade, the digital FSO concept is envisioned as yet another layer of the Elbit-developed Tsayad Digital Army Network.
Initial results from those tests are being applied to developing rules of engagement, military and industry sources here said.
“Instead of sending in fire control officers, we send Skyrider, our eye in the sky, which knows how to create targets and also to direct fire,” said Boaz Cohen, Elbit’s vice president for land and C4 systems.
“Once we gain connectivity, through the [network], among all ground force elements, it means every tank in the arena can also serve as a kind of digital FSO. If the tank sees the target first, it just pushes the data backward to the battery, which will quickly close the loop with one-shot accuracy,” said Cohen, a brigade commander in the IDF reserves.
Dan Peretz, vice president for research and development and business development at Israel Military Industries (IMI), said the IDF can achieve Global Positioning System accuracy at relatively low cost through kit upgrades to existing weaponry.
“The combination of GPS accuracy and network-linked sensors creates flat earth during the day and at night. It gives them the ability to change their role in the fight,” he said.
Riftin said he hopes to implement the digital FSO concept before his term ends in 2015.
Even before then, the corps expects to deploy environmentally friendly “good old gray smokers,” under development at IMI, an officer here said.
The new smoke rounds will supplement those containing elements of white phosphorus “that are acceptable under international law, but didn’t photograph well” during their extensive use in the December 2008-January 2009 Cast Lead war in Gaza.
And by 2014, the IDF Artillery Corps expects to deploy its first battalion of the Romach (Lance), a precision, MLRS-launched rocket equally suitable against single buildings or open areas.
By the end of next year, the corps hopes to receive four prototypes of Humvee-mounted tactical radars, developed by Elta Systems, to be co-located with the 120mm Keshet recoil mortar system made by Elbit.
The new system will operate akin to the US Army’s AN/TPQ-48 radar, which was deemed unsuitable for IDF requirements, sources here said. Once integrated into the IDF’s digital network, the system will provide protection to maneuvering forces, perhaps even in urban battles.
Cohen of Elbit said his company is developing a specific application to connect the Keshet system, also known as Cardom, into the digital network. Once all of the building blocks are in place, he said the system would be able to deliver fire from any battlefield platform or sensor.
“Anyone who has a target will be able to distribute the information to the Keshet mortar system, and the target will be acquired in seconds,” Cohen said.
The IDF’s top brass has not yet decided if the Keshet maneuvering system will belong to the Artillery Corps or the infantry.