TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) latest five-year plan, roughly half of the 310 billion shekel ($78.6 billion) projected for defense spending through 2020, aims to bulk up cyber-protected, networked combat capabilities while cutting back on manpower and non-combat support services.
Dubbed Gideon, the plan is designed to augment the IDF's capacity to fight in multiple theaters, with sufficient war stocks to allow for protracted combat along its northern border with Lebanon and Syria — which is considered two fronts of the same theater — and at least one other theater, whether that be Gaza, the West Bank or Iran, officers here said.
"We certainly don't intend to reduce our current capabilities for Iran," an IDF general officer said when asked if the recent nuclear deal with Iran would allow Israel to divert resources to other theaters.
"Gideon also allows flexibility to enhance these capabilities, if needed," he added.
In parallel, Plan Gideon bolsters home front defenses, with at least one more battery of the Iron Dome air defense system and deployment of the new David's Sling and Upper Tier Arrow-3 intercepting systems, in addition to continuous upgrades of Israel's existing Arrow-2 system.
"We'll continue to expand our air and anti-missile defenses, where funding is heavily influenced by our strong connection with the Americans," the officer said of joint US-Israel missile development programs.
"We understand the importance of maintaining funding according to previous agreements. So there will be no changes; no cuts."
In a recent interview, the officer from J5 planning of the IDF general staff said Plan Gideon does not presume a hike in annual US grant aid, despite the fact that both sides are working to conclude a new 10-year aid package before the current agreement expires in 2017.
"As far as our plan is concerned, we are not counting on a hike in aid. Our plan presupposes current [Foreign Military Financing (FMF)] levels of at least $3.1 billion."
He quickly added, "If and when our governments agree to a hike in FMF, we will know what to do with it. But at the moment, we are not there."
Under an existing $30 billion agreement signed in 1997, Israel is scheduled to receive $3.1 billion in annual FMF through fiscal year 2018, minus any necessary adjustments due to sequestration. Of that amount, Israel is permitted to convert 26.3 percent — some $815 million — into Israeli shekels for local research, development and procurement needs. Funds for joint missile defense programs are separate budget items, above and beyond annual US military grant aid to Israel.
In a meeting of the Saban Forum early last month, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the two sides may be able to conclude a follow-on FMF agreement as early as next month.
"Hopefully, we will be able to conclude the MoU for the next decade and to have a good plan to build up the IDF especially and our intelligence agencies. This is a US commitment that is very important, and we appreciate it very much," Ya'alon said.
According to materials published by the IDF spokesman's unit, Plan Gideon prescribes heightened readiness, organizational streamlining; enhanced air-, sea-, ground, and subsurface combat capabilities; new infrastructure and cross-the-board efficiency measures, including cuts to professional and conscript cadres.
The plan merges the technology and logistics branch of the IDF General Staff into the IDF's Ground Forces Command for more holistic and efficient planning, procurement and operations.
It also calls for standing up a Joint Cyber Command that ultimately aims to integrate defensive capabilities now provided by the IDF's C4I Branch with collection and offensive operations now performed by various communities of military intelligence.
Under the plan, 2016 will be devoted to merging under the C4I Branch a defensive cyber division to include "all defensive capabilities that were scattered all over the IDF," said Brig. Gen. Daniel Bren, director of the Force Buildup, Technology and Mission Support Divsiion of the J6 C4I Branch.
By the end of 2017, that expanded defensive cyber division is expected to be merged with the offensive pillar that will comprise the new Joint Cyber Command.
"Plan Gideon calls for doing some things immediately — like merging the technology and logistics branch into Ground Forces Command — and other things slowly. In cyber, we understand we're going into areas where we don't want to experiment. So in the meantime, we're strengthening cyber defense; and it's all being concentrated within the C4I Branch," the J5 officer said.
The plan prescribes closing down two active duty divisions, three command posts of artillery battalions, and retiring older F-16 Barak fighters as the Israel Air Force transitions into deployment of F-35Is.
Contrary to local media reports, the officer said IDF does not plan to shut down armored units. Also contrary to local reports, the planning officer said the IDF has not yet decided whether to retire its first Dolphin submarine and some of its older surface ships once a sixth Dolphin submarine and new Sa'ar-6-class ships are delivered in the 2019-2020 timeframe.
"Only in 2017 will we start talking about what to do with our first Dolphin submarine and our older surface ships. Until then, nothing is decided," the planning officer said.
As for personnel, the plan trims 2,500 slots — some six percent — from the professional ranks of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), bringing noncompulsory manpower down to 40,000. Most of those cuts aim to streamline services not directly supportive of war fighting, such as the education corps, military advocate general, boarding schools, military radio, the rabbinate and military censor.
"We cut professional areas that are not directly supporting combat operations by as much as 25 percent so we wouldn't have to cut actual war fighting professions," the officer said.
He also noted that headquarters staff at all echelons would be trimmed; some 110 officers in all, starting from the rank of lieutenant colonel. "We're moving to flatten that pyramid. It weeds away redundancies, but, more importantly, it empowers people who are experts in certain fields."
As for the compulsory ranks, active duty service for men is being reduced this year from 36 months to 32 months. Starting in 2020, the last year of the current multiyear plan, active-duty service for men and select female combat positions will be cut further to 29 months. Compulsory service for noncombat females will remain at two years.