New program makes soldiers train amid operational duties

To maintain combat readiness, IDF has allocated millions of shekels to allow forces to take "breaks" from security duties in order to train.

IDF soldiers participate in a drill on the Golan Heights. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
IDF soldiers participate in a drill on the Golan Heights.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
Seeking to work around defense budget problems that have cut into combat training, the IDF has allocated millions of shekels to a new training program for Ground Forces designed to allow infantry conscripts to train while engaging in operational security duties, the army announced Wednesday.
The program, which began this year, is expected to continue into 2015, by which time the next defense budget will be known. Army training officers say that under the initiative, infantry squads or companies leave base for a week of intensive combat training, before resuming security missions.
Lt.-Col. Tamir Shalom, a training officer for the Northern Command, said the model “makes life easier for the commander and improves training.”
Every company must undergo a week of training under these conditions per year, he stated.
The model is considered a cheap solution for training demands, with costs mainly going to transport and ammunition. It comes as commanders struggle with cost-cutting efficiency measures taken by the General Staff that have sliced into war exercises and seen all reserve active duty canceled.
Reserve training sessions, which were canceled in 2013, have been resumed this year.
Brigades made up of conscripted soldiers have had to fill in for the missing reserves, which in turn has extended the duration of border security duties and resulted in fewer rotations of units around various frontiers.
This has left less time to train for war.
Capt. Ido Hazan, head of the Training Division in the Northern Command, told the IDF Spokesman’s Office website that a brigade tasked with security duties for six to 12 months must take “breaks” to train, to avoid eroding its combat readiness.
“That’s why we encourage and require every company to train,” he said.
Last year, army field commanders concerned by cuts to combat exercises received assurances from military brass that in 2014, training will go back to near-normal levels.
The NIS 1.75 billion cut to the defense budget for 2014 has reduced training programs for enlisted units, and Ground Forces commanders, who in some instances reported seeing exercises reduced significantly, expressed concern over the effect on combat readiness.
“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 Jerusalem Post last year. “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 added.
After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, in which the combat performance of the IDF was hampered 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, until the 2013 budget cut.
Despite concerns by field commanders last year, 90 percent of exercises for enlisted forces, as stipulated by the 2007 model, are still going ahead, military sources stressed. Drills for ground forces that are essential preparation for a maneuver during a future war are being held “almost in their entirety,” the sources said.
“Training is measured by an annual three-year cycle, and therefore the accumulative harm is minor and insignificant,” the source said.