Exclusive: Military brass seeks to reassure field commanders over training

Due to NIS 1.75 billion cut in defense budget, training reduced significantly ; Army source: "Those who trained less will be compensated."

SOLDIERS FROM the Sword Battalion IDF army 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
SOLDIERS FROM the Sword Battalion IDF army 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Army field commanders concerned by cuts to combat training programs have begun receiving assurances in recent days from military brass that in 2014, training will go back to near-normal levels, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The NIS 1.75 billion cut to the defense budget for 2013 and 2014 has reduced training programs for enlisted units, while all exercises for reservists were cancelled this year.
Ground Forces commanders, who in some instances reported seeing exercises reduced significantly, expressed concern over the effect this will have on combat readiness.
The IDF’s senior command level has been holding intensive planning sessions on how to bring levels of preparation back to normal, within existing budgetary constraints, for the IDF’s coming multi-year plan for 2014-2018, dubbed “Daring.”
“The chief of staff [Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz] defined readiness through training as the top priority for the coming year,” an army source told the Post. “This means that in 2014-2015, harm to training will be marginal.”
“Those who saw less training in 2013 will be compensated in 2014 at the division level,” the source said.
After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in which the combat performance of the IDF was marred by a lack of exercises, the IDF developed a new model in 2007, under former chief of staff, Lt.-Gen.
(res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, which placed the holding of combat drills as a top priority.
This policy was continued by Gantz, and the IDF doubled its training programs for enlisted and reserve units, until this year’s budget cut.
The army source said 90 percent of exercises for enlisted forces, as stipulated by the 2007 model, are still going ahead.
Drills for ground forces, which will be needed for a maneuver during a potential future war, are being held “almost in their entirety,” the source said.
“In the field, this is being perceived differently, because of the cuts made towards the end of year, and mainly because of rumors. In recent days, messages have been sent down to the field, with the aim of lowering pressure around this issue,” the source said.
“Training is measured by an annual three-year cycle, and therefore, the accumulative harm is minor and insignificant,” the source said.
In 2014, reserve forces will go back to holding combat exercises, though light infantry and logistical support reserve units will hold fewer of these.
When they return to active service, reserves will see less border security and counterterrorism duties in the coming year, as a result of the budget slash, the source said.
Gantz’s decision to prioritize training means the shortage in funds will be felt in other areas, such as weapons manufacturing, acquisitions of new equipment, personnel numbers, and day-to-day needs.
Earlier this year, the budget cuts prompted the IDF to carry out a series of cost-cutting moves, including axing air force squadrons, shutting down tank and artillery units and downsizing the Israel Navy.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 career soldiers are being let go.
Last week, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) at Bar-Ilan University published a paper saying that “dramatic cuts to the IDF budget have forced the army to reduce its ground forces capabilities,” and said that “this is a mistake, as the IDF still must rely on a capable and credible ground force to deal with its strategic threats, specifically the rocket-launching capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah.”
The paper, authored by Dr. Eitan Shamir, a senior BESA research associate, and Dr.
Eado Hecht, a defense analyst, said “cutting the order of battle of ground forces is easy, but rebuilding them is hard and time-consuming. Training troops requires months; procuring equipment and training mid-level officers requires years.”
It concluded, “Fiscal reality compels the IDF to make choices and where to focus its efforts. However, the choices that have been revealed to the public seem to threaten the IDF’s relevance in a number of scenarios that are still probable, even if not imminent.”