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The future infantry soldier: lethal, fast and... victorious
By YAAKOV KATZ
04/22/2011
As IDF implements improvements mandated by the 2nd Lebanon War, amid changing battlefield, the race is on to perfect new weapons systems.
 
In 2006, toward the end of the Second Lebanon War, Miki Edelstein, then a colonel, was sent into southern Lebanon in a last-ditch effort by prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government to gain ground in the war against Hezbollah.

In what was later termed the “Battle of the Saluki,” the idea was to send the Nahal Infantry Brigade, which Edelstein commanded at the time, and the 401st Armored Brigade up through the Saluki ravine as part of a plan to conquer as much territory as possible before the war was set to end just two days later.

Like many other missions during the war, though, the effort did not entirely succeed.

Nearly five years later, Edelstein – a veteran of some of the IDF’s most-elite units, now 44 and a brigadier-general – is the IDF’s chief infantry and paratrooper officer. His job is to ensure that Israel’s Infantry Corps will be better prepared for a future war. It is also to ensure that soldiers who were unable to carry their heavy MAG machine guns through the Saluki since they were not trained to carry such weights long distances will be able to do so next time. And the next time could be close.

According to IDF assessments, war with Hezbollah is not outside the realm of possibility for the coming year, which Military Intelligence believes includes a high probability for conflict.

In his new job, Edelstein is in charge of a revolutionary IDF program, rarely spoken about, called the “Future Infantry Soldier.” Over the past year, the military has conducted a thorough review of the type of soldier it wants to create and with what it wants to equip him.

The goal, as Edelstein explains in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, is to create a more lethal and professional military.

“The army is better equipped today, better trained, and knows how to use the different capabilities that it carries into the battlefield to their full potential,” Edelstein says. “It doesn’t make a difference what type of capabilities you have, since at the end you have to know to use them to their fullest.”

The process will still take several years before it is streamlined throughout the entire military, but some changes are already noticeable, and the end result will be a different soldier, ready to counter the threats and challenges of the 21st century.

But why even invest in such a program? The answer, Edelstein says, is in the way warfare has changed in recent years.

Israel no longer faces a real territorial threat from its enemies – mainly Hezbollah and Hamas – but instead is challenged by enemies who have undergone an urbanization process.

At the same time, guerrilla/terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are adopting many characteristics of conventional-looking militaries, and militaries like Syria are assuming characteristics of groups like Hezbollah. And then there are the rockets, fired from all over enemy territory – both open fields and densely populated civilian areas.

“This all means that in a future conflict, we will have no choice but to use our ground forces and to maneuver into enemy territory,” he says. “What we want to do is make our troops as lethal as possible, as fast as possible and capable of fighting without stopping for as long as needed.”

A review of the IDF’s Infantry Corps began following Operation Cast Lead in 2009 and includes the integration of several new weapons systems with a focus on assisting troops in urban and guerrilla warfare.

Marom Dolphin, an Israeli company, has, for example, presented its Modular Tactical Vest, which includes body armor, a modular belt for weight displacement and a wide variety of pouches within one system.

One change was the establishment of a sniper squad within each company. Previously the battalion had one sniper team, which was allocated to companies on a mission basis. The snipers are equipped with new rifles called H-S Precision 2000, which have a range of more than 1,000 meters and can be fitted with nightvision scopes.

Another new capability provided to infantry soldiers is explosives. Traditionally reserved for units from the Engineering Corps, regular infantry now have simpleto- use explosives that can destroy a wall or door independently.

The IDF is also looking to provide its soldiers with lightweight, breathable uniforms that will be more comfortable than the current uniforms, as well as new modular kitbags for carrying loads into battle.

One Israeli company has developed a new support carrier for heavy loads that consists of a carrying system in a frame with a durable wheel that can roll behind the soldier and take a portion of the weight off the attached tactical bag. According to the company, the wheel system can enable soldiers to carry loads of up to 80 kg. but feel as if they are only carrying about 15 kg.

The IDF is also phasing out the standard M-16 assault rifle and replacing it with Israel Weapons Industries’ Negev Commando. With a length of 89 cm. and weighing 7.58 kg., the Negev Commando is shorter and lighter, and its reduced recoil allows for quick maneuvering in urban warfare scenarios and from moving vehicles.

The IDF is also streamlining Rafael’s MATADOR shoulder-launched anti-structure munition throughout its infantry battalions.

The MATADOR was first used during Operation Cast Lead and is effective in breaching a fortified structure as well as neutralizing threats from within.

According to Edelstein, though, the trick is not the incorporation of new weapons systems, but in knowing how to fully utilize the ones we have.

“We need to know how to get 70 percent out of all of the systems that we have,” he said.

“Too many systems can be ineffective. That is why we constantly check what each and every system brings to the battlefield and what advantage we get out of it.”

The coming year, Edelstein said, will see a continued boost in infantry capabilities in the IDF.

“We want commanders to be as professional as possible and know how to use everything they have to their utmost so they can be lethal, fast and victorious.”

Thinking back on the war of 2006 and the Battle of the Saluki, Edelstein remembers the “Magist,” the name for the soldier who carries the MAG machine gun. In the next war, he expects, the number of soldiers complaining about their loads will be much lower.

“The main difference is that Hezbollah will meet a battalion that is sharper, better trained and dedicated to its missions, since at the end, even with all the weapons systems, what wins the war is dedication – and that we have plenty of,” he says.
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