Inside the IDF’s satellite communications battalion

‘The Jerusalem Post’ is granted an inside look at the unit that enables the IDF to operate anywhere in the world.

By
November 7, 2013 01:43
4 minute read.
LT.-COL. OMER (last name withheld) stands near an advanced Amirim Battalion communications truck.

idf guy with truck 370. (photo credit: yaakov lappin)

Whether on the border with Gaza, inside Lebanon, or thousands of kilometers from Israel, any IDF unit operating in enemy territory needs to stay in constant touch with the rest of the military, and the Amirim (Hebrew for treetops) Battalion enables them to do just that.

The Jerusalem Post was given special access to the battalion, which is the pride of the IDF’s C4i (Teleprocessing) Branch, at its headquarters in the Tzrifin base in central Israel on Wednesday.

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The Amirim Battalion is a part of the Hoshen (Hebrew for breastplate) IDF Communications center, which runs all of the military’s messaging systems.

Battalion commander Lt.- Col. Omer (last name withheld) discussed some of his unit’s core missions, within the limitations of what he could share.

“This is a General Staff-level battalion, which provides communication services at the strategic and tactical levels,” Omer said.

This means that the unit answers the communication needs for a range of IDF units, from battalions to divisions, all the way up to regional commands and military brass.

The Amirim Battalion can go into action in all arenas, anywhere, he added.

“We have unique systems that don’t exist in any other communications battalion,” Omer said.

He divided the battalion’s abilities into two categories, conventional and unconventional.

Conventional roles include using technology for transmitting information over a wide radio bandwidth (known as ultra wideband), and running encrypted military cellphone networks, such as the IDF’s flagship Rose Mountains network.

“In the less conventional field, we deal in satellite communications. We’re responsible for satellite reception stations, known as terminals, which are mobile,” he explained.

Simply put, this means that one company in the battalion will accompany IDF forces engaged in an operation or ground offensive outside of the country’s borders, and link them up to their command levels back in Israel.

This enables the IDF’s General Staff to maintain command and control capabilities remotely.

“This is a tactical tool which we can set up at any point on the globe. As soon as the skies are accessible, we can send transmissions that carry operational systems, anywhere and anytime,” he said.

“This battalion is relevant for all sectors, equally,” he said.

The nature of the battalion’s work means that it touches on many sensitive, mission-related tasks. “But it’s not a classified unit,” Omer stressed, adding, “We work with civilian communications companies.”

The battalion is made up of three companies, the first of which is called the the Strategic Communications Company.

This is the unit responsible for mobile satellite communications on various bandwidths.

“Its role is to provide a transmission pipeline from any place and allow the passage of [operational] information, such as the Mesua [Hebrew for Torch] command and control system of the Ground Forces,” Omer explained. The company can also serve the air force and navy.

“Let’s say there’s a unit involved in a ground operation. As a digital army, this unit’s commander needs access to command and control systems. The company will travel into the battle zone and link the relevant unit to a satellite in stationary orbit, which will beam its signal back to a ground reception station in Israel. This company must be able to operate its advanced equipment under fire, in the middle of a battle zone," he added.

Additionally, if IDF communication centers are hit by missiles, the Strategic Communications Company “knows how to act as a back-up,” he added.

A second company in the battalion focuses on radio communications, and a third runs the ground reception stations.

The battalion has access to a range of vehicles with large antenna and satellite transmitters.

One example is the Links vehicle, a satellite-terminal truck, and a second vehicle acts like a mobile cellphone network, extending the army’s cellphone coverage to any area where soldiers are operating.

The Amirim Battalion is a part of the IDF’s Hoshen communications center, which is currently leading a technological revolution in the military designed to transform it into a network-centered organization.

Hoshen houses two additional battalions, and has its own in-house electronic engineering school for recruits, who are selected by the time they’re in high school.

“Our recruits are quality people, who study here for two years,” said Maj. Moran (last name withheld), of the Hoshen center. “We prepare them for their roles as crossborder satellite communications officers. The training involves bringing them out into the field for three to four days and having them set up the equipment from scratch,” she added. “It prepares them for the mission and gives them a feeling of what it’s like to carry it out.”

The cadets sign on for an additional year of service, due to their prolonged and costly training.

Senior Warrant Officer Kobi (last name withheld), also of Hoshen, said the soldiers of the Amirim Battalion are trained to be flexible, and to avoid falling into a dogmatic pattern of thinking.

“Everything you hear and read about [involving IDF operations] is tied in to us,” said Kobi. “We’re involved in every operational event.”


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