Security and Defense: Taking a more proactive approach on the battlefield

With an influx of precision-guided weapons and its own radar and drone capabilities, the artillery corps is ready for a more independent role.

April 19, 2015 02:59
4 minute read.

An Israeli soldier sits atop a mobile artillery unit in a staging area outside the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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January 28, 2015: Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon have just fired a volley of antitank missiles at an IDF convoy several kilometers away in the village of Ghajar in northern Israel.

One missile strikes a military vehicle, killing two Givati infantrymen inside.

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“Without blinking, the commander of an artillery battery came on the communications network and announced that he was ready to return fire,” recounted Brig.-Gen.

Roy Riftin, chief artillery officer, as he sat in his office at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv last week.

“He understood an incident had begun, and wanted to initiate a response after realizing he was in the range to return fire,” Riftin explained. The artillery battery received the green light to return fire.

Riftin pointed to the episode as a sign that things are advancing quickly in the Artillery Corps. “We changed the idea that artillery units will wait for someone to call for fire to go into action. We do not just wait to assist anymore, when we can acquire targets independently,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

“We do not have to wait,” asserted Riftin. “I have my own lookout; I can attack. This is our new worldview.”

This understanding, he continued, is trickling down through the ranks and creating a more proactive approach. “It is a different culture,” he said – and it is backed by the influx of precision-guided weaponry into the corps, which have completely changed its traditional battlefield capabilities.

“We have undergone a very extreme change over the past decade. Forty percent of conscripted units are not about firing artillery guns,” he noted. Instead, they launch guided surface-to-surface Tamuz Spike NLOS fire-and-forget missiles made by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, as well as the armored self-propelled M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems made by Lockheed Martin, and operate advanced radars. The Artillery Corps also flies its own in-house tactical drone, the Sky Rider.

Describing these changes as dramatic, Riftin said they have “seeped through the entire force-building process. They are responses to new threats from the security environment.”

“Our operational needs mean we have to adapt ourselves to an asymmetrical enemy, which is small and disappears.

This needs a different kind of accuracy – it requires a variation in weapons,” he said.

Hence, the large-scale introduction of guided accurate weapons, now increasingly in use. “We will in the next two years be equipped with thousands of laser- and GPS-guided shells, which are accurate down to a few meters. They strike targets from above,” Riftin said.

This means the Artillery Corps is no longer only about providing fire support for ground offenses: It can now act in an urban setting and is in fact often the first wave of attack, due to its arsenal of guided munitions.

“We can strike from any angle, day or night, in any weather,” the chief artillery officer detailed. “How can I close the sensor- to-shooter cycle rapidly? The answer is the world of radars, and the Sky Rider drone unit. They are all in-house; we use them to acquire targets and strike them.”

He cited the Israel Aerospace Industries- Elta-made Green Rock tactical mobile radar, which was introduced during the Gaza war last summer and detects the launch point of mortars and rockets as soon as they are launched, enabling swift return fire.

“It lets us fire back on mortar fire within five seconds of detection. This program is still in its infancy,” Riftin said.

“As time goes on, our ability to close the sensor-to-shooter cycle becomes more efficient, and the cycle widens.”

During the Gaza war, more traditional artillery fire support played a huge role – when batteries situated behind the front took part in intensive ground battles. But the nature of that support is also changing, Rifting averred.

“Our goal is to create a fire canopy over the camp [the maneuvering forces in the field],” he said. “I don’t just clear the path ahead any longer; I create a canopy over them.”

Riftin said he is looking forward to receiving a new self-propelled Howitzer 155 mm. gun. Today’s rather ancient Howitzer needs to be retired, he maintained; its replacement should require less than half of the 10-man crew operating the current version.

“We need to train and call up more people because of the old Howitzer,” he said, noting that he hopes the replacement artillery gun will bring with it longer ranges, a faster rate of firing and the ability to deploy more quickly; it might even be capable of remote control activation.

The Artillery Corps was one of the first to adopt the Mesua (Torch) digital command and control system, which is now standard across the IDF Ground Forces. The corps is now working to create “an intelligence network and an infrastructure for large data transfers. This will be a much more efficient network,” Riftin said, envisioning a hub that would automatically identify which unit is most available to respond to sudden incidents.

Computers on board firing stations will calculate the precise coordinates of enemy targets, and fire on them seconds after detection, he added.

“We are looking for the added value we can provide. We have come a long way.”

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