Comptroller: Many IDF commanders don't understand new intelligence tech

The new intelligence capabilities from IDF Unit 9900 will be used more and more to assist field operations.

IDF intelligence soldiers (illustrative)  (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
IDF intelligence soldiers (illustrative)
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Many IDF commanders in the field are not familiar with how to use new, advanced aerial intelligence capabilities from IDF Unit 9900, according to State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s annual report issued on Monday.
IDF intelligence Unit 9900 dispatches, collects and deciphers data about adversaries and relevant terrain from IDF aircraft, drones and satellites and disseminates it to top decision- makers in the field. Some of these abilities can be used for crucial long-term strategic missions like following Iranian nuclear facilities or troop movements.
But the report zoned in more on real-time operational uses of the visual intelligence in the field.
Shapira wrote that many of the intelligence middle-men in Unit 9900, who are supposed to coordinate between intelligence collection and field commanders, do not really understand the capabilities of units in the field.

These intelligence coordinators are supposed to spend a specified minimum amount of time in the field each year to stay up to date, but the report said that training has fallen by the wayside.

This is particularly serious, Shapira said, since the trend is to channel more of Unit 9900’s intelligence to assist ongoing operations in the field instead of just using it for longer-term planning.

He quoted former intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Hertzi Halevi, who in 2016 and 2017 said, “establishing the field apparatus” of Unit 9900 “is very fitting and needs to be strengthened” and that “the apparatus has huge potential” to emphasize the importance of the new field-related operations.

An IDF spokesman responded by saying those issues would be corrected by the end of 2018.

Shapira criticized Unit 9900’s readiness for emergencies during confrontations for the period of December 2016 through January 2018.

He said the regulations governing those serving in Unit 9900 during emergency periods allowed them four times longer to return to duty from off-duty status.
The report said this time delay must be reduced and be made consistent with comparable units providing critical support for IDF combat fighters.

In addition, the comptroller said, Unit 9900’s broader purpose and strategy is not properly defined even though the IDF has been saying for years that this would be done. 

Unit 9900’s geology staff is particularly important for discerning different aspects of relevant terrain encountered by forces in the field, the report said.

It added that although the IDF has said various sub-teams within Unit 9900 are all due to be staffed with a geologist in order to understand particular aspects of aerial intelligence, the IDF has not set aside sufficient funds to accomplish that.

This means that Unit 9900 teams are often missing geologists when geological expertise is critical.

Further, the report said the career path for IDF geologists has not been squared with standard IDF career paths.

It said most IDF geologists undertake special academic studies and then remain in the IDF for 20-25 years, with a top rank of major.

The report said the IDF has failed to define broad purposes and strategy for Unit 9900’s geology sub-department.

Another problem Shapira noted was that the Unit 9900’s Shalaf sub-unit, which sends aerial surveillance units to collect intelligence, suffers from split loyalties between IDF intelligence and the Israel Air Force.

He criticized that Shalaf has been run by a civilian contractor for 16 years despite the classified and operational aspects of the role.

The IDF spokesman responded that even though having split loyalties violates IDF general orders to have one clear chain of command, Shalaf should continue to report to two different areas due to its exceptional qualities.

Moreover, the spokesman said the civilian status of the head of Shalaf has not harmed the unit’s operations or the IDF’s broader interests.

A statement by the spokesman said that fixing gaps in training of Unit 9900 members and emergency call-up time periods had been addressed throughout 2018.

Further, the statement said that issues relating to Unit 9900’s geologists would be covered by the start of 2019.

The statement disputed the idea that IDF field commanders do not have sufficient access to the more advanced mapping data.