JERUSALEM — Israel has signed a deal that will further its plans to deploy “artillery of the future,” the Ministry of Defense announced.

Israel’s future artillery effort could solve operational challenges the country faces in the north, potentially in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. It also represents a commitment to investing in its ground forces in future conflicts.

Retired Gen. Udi Adam, the director general of the MoD, signed a deal with Elbit Systems for the development and acquisition of “advanced artillery systems to replace the existing ones” fielded by the Israel Defense Forces, the ministry announced March 27.

“This is one of the largest and most complex procurement plans in the history of the ground forces,” the ministry added. The system is expected to be deployed over the next decade.

Israel has carried out initial tests of the technology and identified engineering challenges. “The next stage of development has begun: prototype production and preparations for serial production,” the ministry noted.

According to a high-ranking retired officer with knowledge of this technology, the decision is no small matter. After the Second Lebanon War, he said, the need to improve Israel’s artillery wasn’t a priority, but now “as big and strong as the Air Force is, the ground forces need close suppose in immediate time in all-weather conditions.”

The challenge is finding a system that is more accurate and efficient than the aging M109 155mm howitzers that are a backbone of the military.

Israel previously considered Elbit’s ATMOS (Autonomous Truck Mounted howitzer System), a 155mm self-propelled howitzer, for the gun. And according to local daily Globes, in 2017 Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel Military Industries, and German firms Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall jointly pitched a system to Israel’s MoD for a program worth about $800 million.

KMW and Rheinmetall make the Panzerhaubitze 2000 advanced artillery system that can fire 10 rounds a minute and has seen action in Afghanistan. However, Israel has shown a preference toward locally produced systems.

The IDF wants a cannon with a high rate of fire and a 155mm, 52-caliber barrel capable of firing at a range of about 40 kilometers. Israel experimented with a system called Sholef in the 1980s. The deal signed last month represents Israel’s next attempt to produce an indigenous system, building on the experience of South Korea’s K9 Thunder, Sweden’s Archer artillery system and the American-made XM2001 Crusader, which was never operational.

The high-ranking retired officer described the “artillery of the future” as a third-generation, fully automated system that incorporates the latest technology in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence.

“The advanced system will be capable of automatic charging and laying,” the ministry said in its announcement. “The system automatically selects, depending on the mission, the type of shell, detonator and required fuse, automatically loading.” In other words, such capability reduces the number of soldiers needed to operate the system.

The retired officer added that having an advanced automated system without soldiers in the turret of the vehicle would be unique.

Israel’s artillery corps is already making use of the newest technology, combining cannons with missiles, rockets and UAVs, and taking lessons learned from the 2014 Gaza War, such as the need for precision in urban combat. That tech includes systems such as IAI’s Top Gun, the Tammuz missile and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System.

Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

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