Analysis: Only an antimissile system can save our tanks

Hizbullah expertise in the antitank missile, which during the war turned into the IDF's worst nightmare.

By
September 29, 2006 04:04
2 minute read.
Analysis: Only an antimissile system can save our tanks

idf tanks lebanon 298.88. (photo credit: IDF)

 
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The guerrillas lay in specially dug foxholes waiting for the IDF Merkava tanks. Once the tanks were spotted, the Hizbullah fighters pulled out their antitank missiles - some of the most advanced in the world - and within seconds knocked off another Israeli tank and then another. This is how it worked during Israel's second war in Lebanon, which brought Military Intelligence to a better understanding of Hizbullah's fighting tactics. The guerrilla group would train fighters for specific missions. Unlike IDF infantrymen who are trained for face-to-face combat and to fire antitank missiles in Low Intensity Conflicts (LIC) and conventional warfare, Hizbullah trained its fighters to become experts in a single field - one of those being the antitank missile, which during the war turned into the IDF's worst nightmare. Despite the clear threat, the IDF was at a loss for how to stop them. Hizbullah had prepared for the war over the past six years and alongside the close to 15,000 Katyusha short-range rockets, the guerrilla group also hoarded thousands of antitank missiles, including the Soviet-built Sagger, Cornet and Fagot, the French MILAN and the US-built TOW, all supplied by Iran and Syria. The missiles wreaked havoc and destruction within the IDF's armored brigades, killing more than 30 soldiers and disabling some 40 tanks. The damage to the tanks and the large number of casualties has some defense officials asking whether tanks are still needed to combat Israel's current threats. Many military experts believe that the era of conventional ground battles is a thing of the past. While that might be true, the recent war in Lebanon demonstrated how not every threat can be eliminated by the air and in order to dig out enemy fortifications and bunkers, a strong ground operation, including tanks, is needed. The US Army is also continuing to use its armored corps and, according to a recent report by NBC, rocket propelled grenades (RPG) have killed nearly 40 American soldiers in Afghanistan and more than 130 in Iraq. "Tanks are definitely still needed on the battlefield," said a high-ranking IDF officer with Ground Forces Command. "But we need to find the right combination and utilize it properly while emphasizing its strengths." The tank, this officer admits, does need to undergo technological advancements to remain applicable to the current type of urban and LIC warfare going on in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and within Lebanese villages. What could save the tank from extinction is an active protection system that can intercept incoming antitank missiles. Such a system is currently being developed by two major Israeli defense companies, Rafael (Israel's Armament Development Authority) and Israeli Military Industries (IMI). The General Staff is scheduled to meet in the coming weeks for its annual budget workshop, a series of meetings during which the military decides where to invest its money and from whom to procure new systems. One of the main issues that will come up during the meeting is the future of the Merkava tank. At the moment, senior officers said there were no plans to close down the project, although the generals will decide during the workshop how many tanks they plan to order over the coming years. What will keep the tanks alive is not only the continuation of the Merkava project, but also the investment and installation of an antimissile defense system for Israeli tanks. As one senior Armored Corps officer said: "This system could mean life or death, not only for the crew but also for the tank."

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