The IDF’s Transportation Center does not make the headlines very often, but this low profile stands in stark contrast to its strategic value.
Without the center, the military would have no ammunition, food, armored vehicles, missiles, weapons, spare parts or even fuel. It could not mass armored divisions on the southern or northern borders at times of conflict, or keep bases supplied with critical goods on ordinary days.
“If the IDF is like a human body, we are the heart and veins. We stream vital components to the whole of the IDF,” Col. Gil Galron, the center’s commander, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday from the center’s main base near Ben-Gurion Airport.
The center relies almost entirely on the country’s network of highways and roads to move its trailers and semitrailers around. But if the roads become unusable due to heavy Hezbollah missile attack, the center has a number of backup plans in store.
According to Galron, in case of a security alert or road disruption due to enemy action, the center can use an advance command and control center to offer an alternative route to convoys.
If the backup routes also become blocked, the IDF’s Engineering Corps vehicles will arrive, to open the blockages and assist the drivers to complete their journeys.
“We have mapped out all possible routes, from point to point, together with Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company and the Israel Police,” Galron said.
Those three organizations also operate a joint command center out of Beit Dagan, near Rishon Lezion, for guiding military supply convoys during times of crisis, he added.
“We have a plan for every operational scenario, which can be carried out on its own or affixed to other planes,” Galron said.
“We are the first to arrive and the last to leave. This is the biggest transportation body in the Middle East,” he added.
The commander stressed that his trucks also keep the air force and navy supplied, not just the ground forces.
The center is a part of IDF General Staff, reflecting its strategic importance, and Galron said it is “an organization that learns.”
Immediately after Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, the center drew up a working plan to make its complex transport operations more efficient.
It set up a digital command and control system, dubbed ‘Snow,’ and today, it can track in real time the location and mission of every vehicle and change its course, or that of its whole convoy, in seconds.
“Every vehicle is represented by an on-screen icon, showing its location, destination, load and driver,” Galron said.
“Drivers are trained in how to deal with security incidents,” he stated, and are equipped with ceramic vests and helmets for dangerous journeys, such as the ones they are currently undertaking to keep bases near the Syrian border supplied.
When large convoys ferrying tanks or armored personnel carriers set out, and one of the trucks breaks down, a substitute vehicle is always on hand to pick up the trailer and keep moving. If that fails, the center maintains its own rescue service for roadside repairs.
The center is currently in the process of upgrading its fleets of trucks. It is buying new Volvo trucks and will soon purchase vehicles made by US truck manufacturer International.
“We are also looking into the next round of acquisitions already,” said Galron.
Galron said the center helps soldiers find jobs in the civilian trucking industry after they complete their military service.
“They leave the army with two driver’s licenses: for vehicles weighing up to 12 tons and for semitrailers. That would have cost NIS 25,000 to obtain in the civilian world,” he said.
This also helps the center ensure it has qualified reservists at its disposal, he added.
“We are beginning to receive female soldiers, and we are preparing to receive ultra-Orthodox drivers,” he added.
Asked if he could envisage self-driving trucks moving supplies around to the military, Galron said this would likely occur in the future, but that it was not an imminent development.