As head of the Israel Defense Forces' Armored Corps, Brig. Gen. Guy Hasson organizes, trains and equips the black-bereted men — and, perhaps soon, women — to maneuver ground warfare.
A 27-year veteran of the Armored Corps, who rose through the ranks from tank commander to the top armored role, Hasson is focused on preparing the force to operate in built-up or urban areas, where active protection, so-called closed hatch operations and proper tactics and procedures are expected to prevail over hidden enemies wielding anti-tank missiles, mortars, IEDs and sniper rifles. Hasson sat down with Defense News' Israel bureau chief, Barbara Opall-Rome, to discuss the Armored Corps' improved warfighting techniques, the next generation of active protection and integrating women in combat.
This week marks 11 years since the last Lebanon war, when Israel's inability to maneuver beyond a few kilometers of its northern border triggered a long list of lessons to be learned. How's the state of readiness in today's Armored Corps?
Since the second Lebanon war, we're dealing in a very professional and significant way on several levels to operate in built-up areas, mountainous areas, and against a well-armed, low-signature, largely dismounted enemy who is trying to sting us as much as possible. We are now trained, equipped and ready, through maneuvering war, to arrive deep into the enemy's built-up areas and, at the same time, once we arrive there, to stop his ability to threaten Israel with rockets and missiles.
How are you doing this?
Firstly, we've adapted the warfighting techniques to this environment. We're now training in areas that are similar, whether in mountainous areas or close quarters, and we're operating better in concert with other combat disciplines of all the IDF ground forces and other service branches, including intelligence, air power and sea power.
What else are you doing?
Our technology now gives us improved ability to operate in the conditions and against this "disappearing" enemy I'm talking about. We've deployed an active protection system that enhances survivability and maneuverability and allows us to influence wider areas. Another thing is our digital C4I network that enables all of our combat forces to operate in the network. The Armored Corps is leading this effort, and today, we're much more advanced than in Lebanon II, and we were able to demonstrate some of this in Operation Protective Edge [the 2014 Gaza war]. And the third thing is to take the thing we call a tank and transform it into a much more lethal system vis-à-vis the enemy I described, with the ability to identify him, target him and cause him lethal harm in minimum time.
You've also reorganized fighting units, correct?
Yes. We've stood up supporting companies, whose principle mission is to support our tanks and to turn the battalion-level echelons into much more effective and adaptive fighting forces for built-up areas. We've deployed advanced precision rounds that operate in the net and are able to strike much quicker and with greater accuracy than ever before. We established reconnaissance platoons whose mission is to assist all that pertains to the transfer of data in the environment I described. And we built observation platoons whose job it is to scope out areas where tanks cannot reach. These are significant examples of the ability of the Armored Corps to properly assess the theater of operations and to influence the battle by way of organization, technologies, tactics and procedures.
What upgrades are planned for the Merkava Mk 4?
One of our challenges is that the enemy that is deployed in built-up areas is based mostly on infantry, and therefore, the ability to detect him is very complex. Therefore, it is highly likely that the first shot will be from his side, from above [sniper fire]. Therefore, one of the things we're developing is to enable our commanders to conduct all of the functions required safely from inside the tank itself. Tank commanders, and his dominance and his ability to operate in the most effective manner, is extremely significant. A hit on a tank extracts a very high price. So we're making great efforts to protect them and allow them to command without compromising the operational effectiveness of their mission.
What else is being planned?
We will have a new generation of active protection; interoperability in the network with all other relevant elements … and new methods of training through simulation. We want to buy trainers that will allow us, in those drills that are not live-fire, to build realistic, three-dimensional simulations that will allow us to train much more in a much more cost-effective way. We want to build into the future tank the ability to create a simulation for the crew to use inside their own tank. These capabilities are in reach, and we're going to go through a huge process of acquiring simulators and taking this training to a much more sophisticated level.
What's the latest with regard to women serving in tanks?
The IDF has been very successful in integrating women in combat in infantry battalions at our borders. So given this success, and after thorough staff work, we in the Armored Corps have decided to give this a chance through a year-long pilot. During that year, we'll identify the female warfighters from the mixed infantry battalions; we'll certify them to operate tanks; and their goal will be to be integrated and deployed for the mission of border defense on tanks. This process is due to conclude in March. And at the end of the day, we'll know professionally and practically whether or not to recommend whether or not to integrate women into the Armored Corps.
Will there be any "discounts" for the ladies?
These female warriors will be deployed on missions of border defense, and, therefore, part of their activities will be different from what men are required to do. Another thing, it's important to note that we're building homogeneous crews of only females. And therefore, we'll need to figure out whether or which adaptations will be required so that females can operate our tanks to maximum benefit.
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.