During Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last year, the IDF’s Southern
Command set up a unique command center, seating around a single table a
representative from the air force, the navy, the ground forces and the various
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The system worked quite simply. The Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency) or Military Intelligence would provide the location of
a specific target – a top Hamas operative, a terror cell or a weapons cache –
and the representatives sitting in the command post would decide which of the
available assets in the field would be used to attack it – a fighter plane, a
navy vessel, a tank or a cannon.
This had not always been the
case. During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, each IDF branch had its own
command post. The consequence was quite obvious – the air force did not always
know what the ground forces were doing and vice versa.
With the new
command posts, in most cases, the attacks were carried out by the air force, due
to a plane’s ability to put a bomb exactly on target with minimal collateral
damage. Rarely were targets handed over to the artillery, whose 155 mm. shell
has a deviation of dozens of meters and can easily miss a target.
changing, and in a future conflict, if it gets its way, the Artillery
could become as decisive a player as the IAF’s F-16s and F-15s. In the
months, the Artillery Corps has made an impressive technological leap
integration of new weapons systems giving it the ability to launch
strikes against enemy targets.
It is for this reason, that Chief
Artillery Officer Brig.-Gen. David Swissa calls the corps “the air force
The need for accurate-strike capabilities is a derivative
of the type of conflicts Israel faces against Hamas and Hizbullah. In
cases, the enemy has intentionally positioned itself within an urban
inside civilian infrastructure, using mosques, hospitals and private
storage centers for its weaponry and launch pads for its rockets and
“We need to be able to hit targets accurately,” Swissa
explains. “This is why the Artillery Corps is progressing to become a
relies much more on precision-strike capabilities.”
The advance in
technology is part of the corps’s way of adapting itself and becoming
more relevant on the modern battlefield. During the Second Lebanon War,
example, it fired 177,000 shells into Lebanon without having an impact
rate of rocket attacks against the North.
For this reason, it is pushing
forward a plan to procure new precision rocket and missile systems.
system is the Accular, a 160 mm. GPS-guided rocket developed by Israel
Military Industries (IMI) which has a range of 40 km. and circular error
probable of under 10 meters.
Behind the requirement to procure rockets
with superior accuracy is an overall IDF desire to more effectively
resources. Due to international law constraints, it will be limited in
of cluster munitions, particularly in Lebanon.
In addition, this new
capability will allow the IAF to focus on strategic targets deep in
territory, while the Artillery Corps focuses on targets within a 40 km.
The corps already has some accurate munitions, used by an
elite unit called Meitar, although much of what this unit does is
banned for publication. All that officers are willing to say is that in
years its capabilities have grown significantly, enabling it to hit
faster and at ranges farther away. But these are munitions used in
circumstances. The new missiles like the Accular would completely alter
the way the ground battle is fought.
If someone wants to get a real taste
of what the Artillery Corps is about, it is worth paying a visit to the
Heights, the main training ground for its various units stationed in a
different bases throughout the North.
One unit is the “Thunder”
Battalion, which operates the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS)
from the US in 1994. With Israeli technological add-ons over the years,
developed into possibly the most devastating weapon in the IDF’s
“Our slogan is ‘Farther, Stronger and Accurate‚’” explains
Lt.-Col. Dov Cohen, the battalion commander. “Its advantage is that it
very rapid rate of fire, can automatically load itself and can launch to
distances with great accuracy.”
The only problem is that the MLRS is not
relevant for urban warfare. The rockets it fires carry cluster bombs and
essentially explode in midair, dispersing hundreds of small bomblets.
it extremely effective against enemy combatants and vehicles in open
its use in civilian areas is extremely controversial due to the
number of bomblets that do not explode and later cause collateral
On the other hand, the recent decision to purchase a new
revolutionary cluster bomb made by IMI which has a self-destruct
destroys itself even if it does not detonate could enable its limited
use in an
Another technological advance is the deployment
several weeks ago of a new phased array radar along the northern border
capable of tracking rockets and immediately pinpointing the location of
“This provides us with the ability to not only know where
the missile is going to hit but also to immediately attack the launcher
people who launched it,” Swissa says.
Called Raz by the IDF, the new
radar – developed by Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary Elta Systems
hook up to cannons and other offensive platforms which can within
the launcher. According to Swissa, with Raz it can take as little as 25
for the Artillery Corps or any other available asset to attack the
The Artillery Corps is also now responsible for operating unmanned
aerial vehicles within the Ground Forces Command. Until now, the use of
restricted to the air force, but with the decision a few years ago to
drone capability for battalions, the Artillery Corps was put in charge.
October 10, it will inaugurate the new unit called “Sky Rider,” which
operate Elbit Systems’ Skylark I UAV.
This does not mean the IDF has
plans to decommission the M109 self-propelled 155 mm. howitzer. In a
conflict with Hizbullah, for example, artillery will be needed to
support for ground forces as they maneuver into enemy territory. “A
force requires artillery support,” Swissa explains. “It is mostly used
areas and on the outskirts of villages.”
Artillery features regularly in
military exercises, working in close coordination with infantry units,
it to suppress the enemy as they advance. To improve coordination
the units and the effectiveness of the artillery fire, Ground Forces
deployed artillery support officers, responsible for coordinating
infantry and the artillery, in every battalion.