The IDF Ground Forces Command is facing an acute shortage of officer engineers, personnel who are crucial to running and developing the weapons and platforms designed to keep the country secure.
Like the private sector in Israel, the IDF is suffering from the lack of desire on the part of students to study engineering. Amid the daily reports on tensions with Hamas and Hezbollah, or violence in the West Bank, the shortage of engineers in the army looks like a small story. But this shortage’s ability to cause strategic harm to national security is vast, and the problem has become a real concern among military planners.
As a result, the IDF Technological and Maintenance Corps has decided to act, initiating four programs to get the number of officer engineers back to sufficient levels as quickly as possible.
Without them, tanks won’t roll onto battlefields, units will fail to fire missiles, armored personnel carriers won’t be developed, and the army will not know how to keep its various weapons and platforms running.
Additionally, due to the small selection of current engineers, the Ground Forces Command does not necessarily have the ability to choose the very best personnel.
Lt.-Col. Shoshan Karisi, head of the pre-military programs branch in the Technological and Maintenance Corps, is the officer charged with the task of making sure that within a few years, 50 to 60 engineers will join the military’s ranks every year, thereby stopping the engineering leak.
To reach that goal, he has effectively set up a factory that will create one generation of army engineers after another.
“A year ago, the Armaments Corps changed its name to the Technical and Maintenance Corps. Armaments are more about aircraft; we deal in a lot of technology. We work with the Defense Ministry’s Tank Development Authority, on the Merkava MK IV tank and the Namer APC. All of the engineers from the Tank Development Authority are from our corps,” Karisi said.
The corps also serves all Ground Forces combat units, through its Technological and Maintenance Division.
“These are engineers who handle all of the needs of the Ground Forces. If a battalion commander wants a drone to monitor his staging area, we will be the ones who come in and define these needs, before the system is developed,” Karisi said.
In recent years, insufficient numbers of machine, electrical and electronic engineers have been joining the IDF. The private sector has been plagued by exactly the same problem.
“Sixty percent of our officers are engineers. We decided to act,” Karisi said. “Not everything will happen tomorrow morning. It will take four to six years,” he cautioned.
The plan has been in motion for the past 10 months. One of its key components lies in the northern city of Afula, where the ORT Israel Sci-Tech Schools network has agreed to cooperate with the IDF.
“We take the pupils who excel in mathematics, English or physics from 10th grade, and we tell them about our program. Those who agree to join are directed toward studying engineering,” Karisi said.
“We instill leadership skills in them, too. We believe these young people will be our future officers,” he added.
“It’s a big paradox that we have the advanced technology to deploy Merkava MK IV tanks and advanced missiles, but we lack the engineers, and we need them. We want to instill leadership qualities in our future engineers from the 10th grade and place them at the technological command level,” Karisi stated.
The selected pupils come under close supervision by military counselors, who ensure they meet their grade targets.
“By the time they finish 12th grade, they will be at a high level. Then we will put them directly into academic engineering studies [at universities],” Karisi said. The students delay their military service so that they can gain expertise, before joining the IDF with the adequate qualifications.
The first class in Afula is already up and running, and has 18 students. The end goal is to set up three such classes, each with 20 to 25 students.
“We are satisfied with the first class,” Karisi said. “And the fact this is taking place in the periphery means we are contributing to the state, giving opportunities to youths in areas where they may have fewer opportunities.”
An additional three programs to replenish numbers of army engineers have been launched in recent months, all under a program called Hoshen Stones, the stones worn by the high priest in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.
One program involves taking soldiers who were drafted a year ago, pausing their military service and sending them to universities to study three years of engineering.
Another route takes 12th-graders and places them in academic engineering study courses, from where they will join the IDF.
“There are currently a total of 68 students in various stages of studying,” said Karisi. “In October, at the start of the next academic year, we will hold a conference for the next courses. We understand that this is gaining momentum. Hoshen Stones is producing the next generation of engineers.”
In 2019, the first generation of new engineer officers will take up their positions in the IDF. Their arrival will influence every aspect of the Ground Forces, “from the individual combat soldier to strategic integration of technology,” he added.
“If we can create 50 to 60 officer engineers a year, that will be very significant. That is what we want to reach in five to six years,” the officer said. “We understand that the impact will be very big.
“I don’t know if it will solve the entire problem in Israel, but it will be a big push for industries. For the IDF, it will be enough,” he added.