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Israeli Armor, Artillery Corps Shifting Emphasis

Revamp Agendas in Common Bid To Boost Firepower, Maneuver

Mar. 9, 2014 - 03:45AM   |  
By BARBARA OPALL-ROME   |   Comments
'We determined that as an integral and central component of the ground forces, we needed to view ourselves first and foremost as a supporting organization to enable the Army to achieve its objectives.'
'We determined that as an integral and central component of the ground forces, we needed to view ourselves first and foremost as a supporting organization to enable the Army to achieve its objectives.' (Israel Defense Forces)
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TEL AVIV — Tighter budgets and changing threats are forcing specialized Israeli Army corps to temper parochial ambitions to bolster a smaller, fire-fortified, combined arms maneuvering force.

Just a year ago, Israel’s Artillery Corps was crafting a new mission statement and doctrine to transition from its traditional role of fire support to the leading ground force provider of standoff attack. Its Fire2025 master plan aspired to one-shot, one-target accuracy at increasingly long ranges, with saturation fire relegated to second-tier status.

At the same time, the Armored Corps was championing its own agenda to sustain outyear production of main battle tanks, mitigate downsizing and preserve its capacity for conventional war.

But reassessments in recent months are accenting a more interdisciplinary strategy for training, organizing and equipping Israel’s future ground force, seeking benefits beyond corps-specific parochial agendas, officers here said.

“In the end, we determined that as an integral and central component of the ground forces, we needed to view ourselves first and foremost as a supporting organization to enable the Army to achieve its objectives,” said Brig. Gen. Roy Riftin, commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Artillery Corps. “In parallel, we will build capabilities to enable accurate means of standoff attack.”

In a late February interview, he acknowledged that the return to traditional support priorities “was not easy to swallow” by members of Israel’s gunner community.

For years, artillery proponents, including Riftin, had envisioned network-enabled ground-based systems as an option to airpower for a spectrum of scenarios demanding precision standoff attack.

“We’re still pursuing the vision,” Riftin said of revamped plans. “But in the end, I understood that the Corps will be much more significant if we continued to accent the element of support.”

Brig. Gen. Shmuel Olansky, IDF chief armored officer, conceded similar resistance among the close-knit armored community to downsizing armored reserve forces by several brigades. He also acknowledged that plans to infuse all armored battalions with organic infantry capabilities optimized for urban war has sparked accusations that the Corps was sacrificing its capacity for conventional war.

“It’s emotion and a matter of pride. ... I meet often with critics — many of them are my former commanders — and I admit there are no guarantees that what we’re doing now is correct,” Olansky said. “But I’m confident that the direction we’re going in today is most appropriate for reasonable scenarios.”

Nevertheless, Olansky noted, “If, in 10 years, we face concerted, mass attack from a combination of armies...” He intentionally declined to complete the thought.

Accent on Combined Arms

By the end of 2016, each active-duty armored battalion will have its own organic specialty company composed of reconnaissance, observation and mortar platoons. An identical plan will be implemented later for the reserve force, Olansky said.

New combat support specialty companies will replace older-model tank companies slated for retirement. They’ll be trained to operate “shoulder-to-shoulder” with main battle tanks as an integral part of armored forces optimized for maneuvering in urban and heavily forested arenas.

“We don’t need to build a force only for mass maneuvering war, but for what we call war between wars where the enemy is less visible, less likely to engage us directly, yet lethally equipped with advanced anti-tank missiles,” Olansky said. “This means our future force must be flexible to transition rapidly to different warfare scenarios. It means we need more precise tank rounds and the ability to respond in real time to targeting data coming from various sources.”

Col. Nadav Lotan, commander of the IDF’s 7th Armored Brigade, said new capabilities provided by specialty mortar platoons extend the battalion’s operational envelope.

“Mortars will be able to reach ranges that the tank doesn’t have. It’s a significant boost in operational effectiveness,” Lotan said during a recent interview in the Golan Heights.

Plans call for equipping the Armored Corps’ organic mortar forces with infantry-operated Keshet, an M113-based 120mm recoil mortar system by Elbit Systems.

Riftin is evaluating upgraded infantry maneuvers with Humvee-mounted ELM-2106 Windshield tactical radars, the IDF’s choice over the US AN/TPQ-48. Radar producer Elta Systems, a subsidiary of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, is expected to deliver demonstration radars by summer, and Riftin’s Artillery Corps is forming teams to operate the system alongside Keshet against rocket and mortar threats.

Good-Enough Precision Rockets

The Artillery Corps has designated a new precision rocket by state-owned Israel Military Industries (IMI) as its weapon of choice for bridging immediate needs with future plans for standoff strike.

Known here as Romach, the rockets are designed to strike within 5 meters of targets some 35 kilometers away. Once fully deployed, Romach will offer an accurate alternative to unguided rockets and artillery shells whose use — while legal under international law — is increasingly ill-suited for urban war.

Launched from a standard multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), Riftin hailed Romach as “an excellent, pragmatic solution” to shift from so-called statistic weaponry, which constitutes 95 percent of his force and is much more prone to inflicting collateral damage.

“Our need to operate in built-up areas demands across-the-board shift from statistic weaponry toward a new inventory based on precision,” Riftin said. “But since the best precision weaponry is very expensive, we need to go with cost-effective capabilities that may not be the best, but are good enough.”

Multiyear plans call for mass procure-ment of the IMI-developed system. The firm is working on supplying some 1,000 rockets to support deployment of the IDF’s first Romach battery in November.

Riftin said his organization is crafting the operational concept for Romach operations following its successful conclusion of rigorous field tests.

“It’s proven itself in terms of precision,” he said. “The range is a little shorter than we would have liked, but it still fires more or less to the boundaries of a division. And since it uses a common MLRS launcher, we don’t need to change platforms or people. The only thing we’re changing is the certification process.”

He said Romach meets parallel requirements to provide fire support for maneuvering forces and for accurate targeting of two-story structures in urban, anti-terror operations. “It’s the ideal ‘good enough’ option that allows us to straddle both worlds at a reasonable cost.” ■

Email: bopallrome@defensenews.com.

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