Comms Upgrade: Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, IDF chief of staff, participates in a recent exercise to train future IDF commanders. The IDF plans to improve tactical communications with upgraded wireless broadband and satellite on-the-move systems. (Israel Defense Forces)
TEL AVIV — The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is planning major C4I upgrades over five years to augment networked combat capabilities and offset the impact of budget-driven downsizing.
Billions of shekels in budget cuts are driving drastic reductions in IDF force strength, officers here said, with several armored brigades, one reserve division and older artillery, aircraft and ships slated for decommissioning over the next five years.
To compensate, the IDF’s 2014-’18 spending plan — known here as Te’uza — calls for fortifying connectivity while linking lower-level combat echelons into the C4I networks now supporting joint planning and operations at higher command levels.
“Te’uza reflects the chief of staff’s directive to invest in jointness and interoperability as a way to provide added value and preserve high operational effectiveness, despite budget cuts and reductions in force structure,” said Brig. Gen. Eyal Zelinger, head of the IDF’s C4I Corps.
In a recent interview, Zelinger said the five-year spending plan would focus on tactical connectivity of maneuvering forces through accelerated deployment of upgraded, long-distance wireless broadband and satellite on-the-move systems.
Defense and industry sources said the Tzayad Digital Army Program led by Haifa-based Elbit Systems remains a centerpiece for connecting higher-level command echelons with armor, infantry, artillery and other ground forces on a single, secure digital C4I network.
By 2018, all active-duty and most reserve units to battalion level should be fully integrated into the digital network managed by the IDF’s Ground Forces Command.
But beyond the Army’s Tzayad network, it is the C4I Branch of the IDF General Staff that is responsible for providing the infrastructure that connects all IDF networks, from the high command here across all service branches down to commanders in the field.
In the last five years, the C4I Branch connected all permanent command headquarters of the IDF General Staff, military services and territorial commands. In the coming five years, it will link up all stationary command posts in the field and begin deploying capabilities to support mobile command posts and increasingly lower-level combat echelons.
According to Zelinger, the C4I Corps aims to more than triple the bandwidth capacity now available to maneuvering forces through upgrades to a network called Afik Rahav. The truck-deployed system is operational at the brigade level, supporting voice communications, data and streaming video up to 30 megabytes per second. Upgrades budgeted under Te’uza are expected to expand bandwidth capacity to 100 megabytes per second, Zelinger said.
In parallel, the C4I Branch is working with Ground Forces Command to deploy Elad Yarok, another mobile command-and-control system optimized for supporting battalion-level maneuvering forces, sources here said.
Another key C4I goal in the coming five years is to equip maneuvering forces down to brigade level with organic satellite-enabled communications. Currently, the C4I division operates a specialty battalion within its Choshen Brigade that provides satcom services to combat commanders. IDF divisions and brigades receive satcom support from troop carriers equipped with satcom links and very small terminals for transmitting and receiving secure data.
Under the Te’uza plan, the C4I Corps will deploy hack-proof satellite receiving terminals down to the battalion level, officers here said. In parallel, the C4I Branch aims to deploy an internally developed system that allows brigade commanders to receive real-time streaming of satcom data into their secure mobile phones.
A version of this system made its operational debut in November in support of IDF units providing disaster relief following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
“If, in the past, we had to rely on big equipment mounted on trucks, today we have very small systems that can provide this critical satcom to commanders no matter where they are in the field,” an officer here said.
Secure, Ground-Based Satcom
Until six years ago, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s strategic roadmap for space called for a dedicated military communications satellite to support IDF operations. Chronic budget constraints eventually killed the plan, forcing planners to focus on ground stations, specialized antennae, terminals and other low-cost methods for receiving secure, hack-proof, cyber-resistant satcoms from commercial satellites. ■