IDF’s next multi-year plan could revolutionize defense

Emphasis may be put on bolstering navy, buying accurate rockets for ground forces.

Avion F 35 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avion F 35
(photo credit: Courtesy)
New missile ships or more fighter jets? Independent accurate rocket systems for ground forces, or more smart bombs that can only be fired from the air? These and other questions are currently at the heart of debates as the IDF Planning Directorate begins preparatory work for General Staff discussions on the army’s new multi-year plan.
The plan is expected to be approved in the coming months – likely shortly after Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant takes up the post of IDF chief in February.
As happens every time before a new multi-year plan is approved, each branch of the military lobbies the top brass, particularly the chief of General Staff and the defense minister, in an effort to convince them that its needs are the most important – that without that branch, Israel’s security will be at risk.
The current multi-year plan, called Tefen, went into effect in 2007. The plan, formulated by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, was supposed to respond to lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War and put an emphasis on the Ground Forces Command, upping production of the Merkava tank, upgrading combat gear for infantry troops and beginning to manufacture the new, highly-protected Namer armored personnel carrier.
What was unique about the Tefen plan was that it lasted four years, a lifetime in IDF plans. In the past, military budget plans mostly lasted two years, or three at the most. When a plan lasts longer, it is a sign that the planners were correct in their predictions of the way the region would develop.
Based on those predictions, plans are formulated and decisions are made on which systems to develop and which weapons to procure.
Traditionally a large portion of the IDF’s procurement budget has gone to the air force. This will continue in the next plan as well, as demonstrated last month with the signing of a $2.75 billion deal to purchase 20 new stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. It is also continuously increasing its standoff precision strike capabilities with the recent arrival of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, capable of penetrating several feet of reinforced concrete and steel.
The two major changes that the next budget plan could see have to do with the possible bolstering of the navy and the procurement of accurate rocket systems for the ground forces. In both cases, if the branch’s plans are approved, the way Israel conducts war could change dramatically.
For the navy, the appointment of Galant – a former commander of the naval commando unit Flotilla 13, better known as the Shayetet – could mean greater investment in new platforms, particularly new missile ships. The navy was hoping to order two new ships from Germany, but those talks appear to have fallen through, and it is now looking into building the ships domestically.
The big question, though, is what these ships will carry. While the navy has traditionally been focused on the sea – keeping the country’s sea lines open, as well as enforcing sea blockades on conflict zones like Lebanon and the Gaza Strip – it is eyeing a more active role in the next conflict on the ground, as well.
The argument is simple: If Israel comes under massive missile and rocket fire in a future war, its ability to utilize its air force may be limited. The installation of accurate missile systems on the backs of missile ships could provide Israel with the ability to continue striking deep inside enemy territory from the sea, where neither Hamas nor Hizbullah has a clear capability.
If this happens, the navy’s budget will need to be increased significantly.
Another major change could be in the Ground Forces Command, which is vying for a multi-million dollar budget to purchase new advanced accurate rocket systems.
One candidate is the Accular, developed by Israel Military Industries (IMI) – 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 the South.
The idea behind requiring the new rockets is to wean ground forces off their dependency on air support and enable them to launch precision strikes against targets with rocket systems that they will independently operate. This, in turn, would take some of the load off the air force and allow it to focus strictly on strategic targets deep in enemy territory.