The "Doher" guns are still in service, but today they make up only a small percentage of the Corps' arsenal, which includes battalions of Precision-Guided Munitions (PGMs), the "Menatetz" (M-270) rocket layout which also employs the new "Romakh" (LAR-160) rocket system, among others, a layout of the Hermes 450 and Rokhev Shamayim (Skylark-1) and most recently Doher Shamayim (Skylark-3) UAVs and Radar systems to various ranges, from tactical defense Radar systems (the new mortar fire spotting system is known as "Magen Ruach" – EL/M-2138T) to a combined-arms Radar system used jointly with the IAF ("Raz" – ELM-2084 MMR).
Another significant change will take place later this year: the Corps will evolve into a layout, charged with all battlefield fire support, so the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps (previously known as field intelligence) will be subordinated to it. Even the "Doher" (M109AL) self-propelled guns, delivered to IDF not less than 40 years ago, are about to be phased out in favor of a new self-propelled gun system IDF will select next year (following the final selection, the replacement process will take many years to complete).
In the following interview, held in anticipation of the fourth international fire conference produced by Israel Defense and the Artillery Association, Brig. Gen. Alon Klos spoke about all of the relevant developments within the Corps and on the battlefield. The conference will be held on May 17-18 at the Artillery House in Zikhron-Yaakov.
The Disappearing Enemy
Let's begin with the battlefield. According to Brig. Gen. Alon Klos, the nature of the employment of fire in combat has changed completely. While in the past the objective was to destroy as many targets as possible on a fairly exposed battleground, today the fire should be delivered, very accurately, at small targets that are effectively concealed above and under the surface, and the opportunity to engage those targets may consist of intervals lasting only a few seconds.
The information about the various targets is collected from numerous sensors, and must be processed in real time so that the processed information may be disseminated to and "handled" by a diversified range of fire resources (including even the air force and the navy).
Accordingly, IDF developed a concept of "site canopy" to provide fire support coverage over a given area cell. According to this concept, the objective is not necessarily to generate a maximum mass of fire in that area cell, but to aspire for "effective" engagement. In many cases, employing massive fire is a problem, owing to the danger of hitting uninvolved civilians.
Artillery officers and IAF liaison officers are currently integrated in the fire employment control centers, which exist as of the brigade level – and even at lower levels, as required. Even the smallest tactical units have strike resources assigned to their responsibility. Klos emphasizes that as far as the IDF Ground Arm is concerned, the primary objective is to deliver the fire at the target as promptly as possible, before the enemy can disappear.
When you look at the development process, where do you identify the current bottleneck – in the fire throughput capability, in the rate at which intelligence targets are collected, or in the ability to disseminate the intelligence information in real time, using state-of-the-art command and control (C2) systems?
"I have identified three gaps," says Brig. Gen. Klos. "The first gap involves the network dynamics of the C2 systems, where a capability is required that would enable our weapon systems to do everything faster. The second gap involves the more professional aspect, as delivering fire at targets that are not visible is a highly complex undertaking: you want to decentralize it to more operators capable of accomplishing the mission, and this requires instruction and training and practice. The third gap involves capabilities, namely – the weapon systems. But if you ask me where the potential to do everything in the fastest and most effective way is found, I have no doubt that it is in the realm of the network and C2 systems."
How does everything you say relate to the long-term plan and the vision of the IDF Ground Arm?
"The force build-up plan of the IDF Ground Arm was intended to improve the effectiveness of the ground maneuver – the land warfare. As fire support has always been and will always be highly dominant as an element of the operation, it fits in. According to the long-term plan, the fire will be more accurate, more lethal and more diversified. It will be employed during more relevant times and through interoperability. In this way, it will enable the maneuver to become more effective."
During Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the IDF Chief of Staff at the time, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said that the maneuver supported the fire rather than the fire supporting the maneuver. Is this the general direction?
"I think that the fire is a part of the maneuver and operates in the context of the employment of forces as part of the operational friction and in support of the maneuver. In order to facilitate the maneuver and the operational purpose – at the divisional, regional command or GHQ level – the fire also has missions that are not directly associated with the maneuver. For example, the commander of an artillery battalion may have a given space assigned to him, within which he should execute a mission. For this purpose, he operates by employing fire within his own space.
"Beyond that, owing to the very friction with the enemy on the ground, the maneuver generates targets for the fire. Maneuvering means movement and fire. The age-old concept, according to which at a certain stage in the battle the fire element ends and the maneuvering element begins, has been replaced by combined operations, which reflect the advantages of each one of the participating layouts.
"The challenge will be to utilize the resources to maximum effect and properly define the operational purpose. We are investing considerable efforts in the consolidation of a holistic concept. The transition from the Artillery Corps to the Combat Support Layout is also associated with it. It will enable us to build a force that would be better suited to the operational needs and challenges within the foreseeable future. After all, the employment of fire includes both the spotting of the targets and the elimination thereof. In the new layout, everything will be concentrated in one place, in an integrated and adapted manner. Our problem is the disappearing, mobile, sophisticated enemy, who compels us to find solutions and adapt the manner in which we operate in order to respond to this challenge."
Can we say that some of the lessons drawn from Operation Protective Edge maintain that in some situations, statistical fire is more effective than precision fire, as was the case in the major extrication missions in Rafah and Shuja'iyya?
"It is no secret that an on-going argument is under way regarding the relevance of the employment of statistical fire, but if you consider the needs and the tools you would have liked to possess for routine operations, for emergencies and for war, you will realize that the capability of statistical fire is essential. There are certain places and scenarios in the context of land warfare where powerful accompanying fire is required which, on the one hand, effectively eliminates the enemy's ability to operate and damages his infrastructures while on the other hand enabling our force to survive and accomplish its missions. There are situations in combat where this fire – which is highly diversified, prompt and powerful – is definitely appropriate. So, my argument, when I look ahead, is that fire generally and statistical fire in particular will become much more relevant. The combination between precision (fire) and statistical (fire) is important, as otherwise we will not have sufficient firepower, because precision fire is extremely costly."
Can we also say that less accurate fire can deter the enemy from operating more effectively than highly accurate fire delivered at a fortified locality?
"We have excellent intelligence but in reality, there are places regarding which we do not have intelligence but still contain threats, and we may not know exactly where to strike. If I know exactly where I should strike, then I will employ Precision-Guided Munitions and that would be the right thing to do both operationally and with regard to the aspect of ordnance economy (one precision munition fired instead of numerous rounds offering statistical accuracy). In places where I do not know where to strike – I will deliver statistical fire."
The decision made last April, according to which you selected IAI to develop a fuse that would convert a standard artillery shell into a precision-guided munition, along with the recent reports regarding the development of loitering munitions in the defense industries – are they a part of the concept of more accurate fire?
"Yes, we will be more accurate as we have more accurate intelligence and we would like to be more precise with our strike. Why? Because in this way we will hit the target faster, and then the effect on the target would be more powerful. At the same time, as stated, we must retain the relevance of the statistical fire and create a synergy between the different capabilities. While in the past we could produce efficiency through a larger OrBat, in the future we would have to ensure efficiency by being much more precise and much more diversified and by using fewer resources. How? Through integration, and who is in charge of this integration? The Artillery Corps!"
The New Self-Propelled Gun System
Let's talk about the new self-propelled gun system you are planning
"A process is currently under way vis-à-vis two industries that complied with the operational requirement (one proposal is that of Elbit Systems and the other is that of the KMW Company of Germany). We are currently in the selection process."
What are the characteristics of the new self-propelled gun system?
"The new gun system will be 52 caliber, autonomous, have a range of 40 km and the ability to calculate firing solutions at the individual gun level. It will not be restricted by sights and fire directors.
"The new self-propelled gun system will be operated by 4 crewmen instead of 7 today. It will fire between 6 and 8 rounds per minute. It will be modular, namely – both wheeled and tracked, so that if you have to move very quickly from one sector to another, you will not depend on truck transport."
Are you investing in 'reduced' ammunition in order to minimize the collateral damage?
"We are addressing the ordnance with regard to the aspects of fragmentation control and the warhead. In any case, along with the new self-propelled gun system, each one of the fire elements will feature innovations. In the munitions category, we will be more accurate. In the shells category, we will have a precision fuse. In the rocket layout, the 'Romakh' (LAR-160) system will be more accurate. We are in the process of upgrading the sub-munitions owing to the limitations imposed on the use of cluster munitions – there is a sub-munition development that will enable us to comply with the international limitations. The MLRS is a platform where you will be able to see all of the capabilities we would have with regard to rockets. All of the new rocket developments will be fired by this platform. The MLRS / 'Menatetz' (M-270) are platforms, they have rockets, we have smoke, cluster, HE and illumination. Here we will have a range of munitions that will include classic 'Menatetz' munitions of trajectory-correcting rockets as well as munitions that are not cluster munitions but HE munitions."
What is the current status of the process of assimilating the 'Romakh' (LAR-160) rockets (by IMI) as part of the 'Menatetz' (M-270) layout, which for many years has been based on MLRS rockets exclusively?
"We are making the first battalion operational. Our intention is to make the entire OrBat operational and continue to introduce new capabilities in this field that will relate more to the effectiveness with regard to the target: controlled fragmentation, the ability to hit infrastructures and various characteristics of the targets.
"I can tell you that the operational effectiveness of these rockets with regard to the target will be much better than before. The 'Romakh' will be operational through the entire 'Menatetz' arsenal of the IDF. How will we allocate it? That is another matter. With the OrBat we will have, everyone will know how to employ it."
What about the unmanned platform layout?
"We are upgrading it and assimilating an additional capability in the category of tactical UAVs for ground operations (in addition to the Hermes 450 layout and the Rokhev Shamayim [Skylark] battalion-level surveillance layout. All of the systems are manufactured by Elbit Systems – A.R.).
"Next November, we will absorb the first 'Rokhev Shamayim 20' system and would then provide a solution to the brigade level, by having the new UAV dwell over the brigade's space and also through the operational flexibility it will offer, by concentrating the effort within the brigade space. This will fulfill the needs of the brigade – not the battalion."
In the Radar category there is the new Radar, 'Magen Ruach' (EL/M-2138T)
"Generally speaking, we have settled for a number that provides an appropriate solution to the needs. The intention is to switch to smaller Radars that would be mobile with the maneuvering elements and provide a solution for spotting threats within shorter ranges, such as mortars and threats that affect the maneuver. This is the next new element in our layout. These teams are being developed within the Radar and meteorology unit of the Artillery Corps. They will be employed according to an approach of dispersal to the forces and employment within the forces."
Will this be integrated in the solution for the mortar threat along the security fence system?
"Yes. The Radar concept is a holistic concept. It has different tiers. The fence system tier consists of the stationary Radars. The tier that currently exists is the spatial, mobile tier."
"We will advance and renew the Precision-Guided Munitions layout, too," says Brig. Gen. Klos, "With regard to the aspect of capabilities and development with regard to the technological aspect and the operational aspect. At the same time, we are developing with regard to the aspect of our command and control layout – the organizational structures intended to enable us to employ those capabilities in a synergistic manner, integrated with and adapted to the operational solution required ad-hoc in the combat zone. Here we are developing at all of the echelons. The change we have introduced recently at the command center level in the general context of the change that is taking place in the ground forces includes the fire canopies, as well as changes within the fire planning and employment structures at the divisions and the regional commands. This is a highly significant change that challenges us and to which we are committed, with regard to the formulation of the concepts, the doctrine, the techniques and procedures. All of these things jointly are intended to enable us to be more readily available, faster in our response, more accurate and more effective."
Is the brigade currently an independent fire unit that does not rely on the division?
"It does not rely on the division. It used to be more limited, today the entire fighting and all of the intelligence capabilities are accessible down to the lowest level, and the complementary measures we take with the ability to employ the fire capabilities – everything is accessible down to the brigade level. As part of our vision, we will relegate that to lower levels as well. If you will, in our vision, owing to the fact that in the combat scenarios as we understand them, we would have liked to see that anyone encountering a threat and does not have the solution in his own hands… we will have the ability to deliver fire capabilities from the higher levels in order to resolve the operational problem we encountered."
You still belong to a generation that used to stick poles in the ground in order to calculate the position of the self-propelled guns, before the era of GPS. What have you done with all of the reservists who had been trained in the past after the Corps evolved?
"We have recently completed a complex process of reorganizing our OrBat. We took advantage of the opportunity to line up and this involved real professional complexity. Now, the entire layout of guns and reservists is semi-autonomous, based on GPS navigation capabilities. Now, from end to end, we no longer stick poles in the ground."