IAF, ground forces at odds over air strike logistics

GFC may buy new rocket system to reduce current level of dependence on IAF support, allowing it to focus on targets deep in enemy territory.

A power struggle has erupted between the Israel Air Force (IAF) and Ground Forces Command (GFC) over the training of air support officers to be deployed in infantry units. The air support officers are to assist the units in coordinating air strikes during large operations.
The position of air support officer was established following the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and grew in importance after Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009.
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Up until now, the positions have been filled by reservist pilots stationed in infantry and armored brigades; the pilots undergo special training with the ground forces to learn how to direct air support where IDF troops operate.
Now, however, the GFC has asked the General Staff to create the post not just within brigades but also within battalions and even companies.
Currently, if a battalion commander wants aerial support, he cannot speak directly with pilots, but needs to put in a request to the brigade where the air support officer then coordinates the strike. Due to this indirect process, the IAF demands that the distance between the target and the nearest IDF troops in the area be at least 1,000 meters.
“This is not an effective process,” one senior IDF officer said, “not to mention that in other Western militaries the distance required is around 300 meters and not 1,000.”
The IAF, however, says it does not have enough reservist pilots for the role. The GFC has suggested the IAF take some of its squad leaders and train them to become air support officers, but the IAF rejected the proposal, contending that someone who was not a pilot could not fill the position – even though army officers do so in other Western militaries.
The issue recently came up at a meeting of the General Staff and, despite the IAF’s opposition, is said to be close to resolution – either by training squad leaders for the positions, or having the GFC buy new rocket systems that would reduce its dependence on air strikes.
The GFC recently made an attempt to procure advanced and accurate rocket systems and, despite the IAF’s objections, it is now seeking a budget for the rocket systems as part of the IDF’s new multi-year plan, set to begin in 2011.
One candidate is the Accular, developed by Israel Military Industries. It is a 60 mm. autonomous surface-to-surface missile guided by a GPS system that puts it within a few meters of a target. The rocket, designed to destroy artillery batteries and infantry command posts, was successfully tested earlier this year in southern Israel.
If these rockets are purchased, the GFC would be able to reduce its current level of dependence on IAF air support. This would take some of the load off the IAF and allow it to focus strictly on strategic targets deep in enemy territory.
With the new rocket systems, the IDF would create a division of responsibility between the Artillery Corps and IAF to clarify who is responsible for which targets and at which ranges.