In July 2006, IDF troops operating in southern Lebanon near the end of the Second Lebanon War were looking for any way to quench their thirst. In an attempt to satiate this thirst, the troops drank stagnant water out of storage containers owned by Lebanese civilians, and even looted soft drinks from local stores. Any water bottle obtained was consumed immediately. Dehydration was only one problem in a long series of logistic failures throughout the Second Lebanon War.
"During the Second Lebanon War, there was no shortage of logistic items," says Brigadier General Itzik Cohen, the head of the Logistics Branch at the IDF's Technological & Logistics Directorate, in a special interview with IsraelDefense. "We had sufficient inventories of food, water, and ammunition. The problem was that the items did not reach the forces that needed them."
Brig. Gen. Cohen is familiar with southern Lebanon. He grew up in Moshav Avivim, located right near the border. When he was seven years old, he was severely injured in a shooting attack when terrorists ambushed a bus carrying schoolchildren from the Moshav. Twelve schoolchildren and guardians were killed in the incident. To this day, Cohen has shrapnel embedded in his face. Despite this injury, Cohen eventually began his service in the IDF as a soldier in the Golani Infantry Brigade, and subsequently advanced to senior positions in the IDF's logistics layout.
In the event of another war in Lebanon, will things be any different?
"Yes," Cohen says emphatically.
The Failures of the Second Lebanon War
In an attempt to analyze the failures of IDF logistics during the Second Lebanon War, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen points out that the Logistics Branch he currently heads was disbanded only a few months prior to the war.
In the summer of 2006, the IDF disbanded the divisional logistic groups that were responsible for resupplying combat divisions. As in past wars, the operations of the divisional logistic groups was cumbersome, often got lost, and even mistakenly overtook armored columns or blocked important advance routes.
Another problem encountered during the Second Lebanon War was the failure of combat logistics – the forces on the ground advanced faster than the rate at which the logistic routes breached for them were laid. The food and water carried by combat troops for one or two days of combat operations was consumed long before supplies were delivered to them – if such deliveries were even made. Not to mention, the attempts to deliver supplies using ATVs and llamas – South American beasts of burden – were unsuccessful.
The issue of logistics, so it seemed, was of low priority for commanders, and the result was reports of hungry and thirsty troops deep inside hostile territory. In dire need of supplies, C-130 Hercules transporters paradropped supplies to the forces on the ground in SAM-infested areas. This dangerous operation put the pilots, aircraft, and equipment at risk. In some cases, the equipment was not dropped close enough to the IDF combat elements. In other incidents, equipment was dropped directly into the hands of Hezbollah.
According to Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, as part of the lessons from the war, not only did the IDF reestablish the GHQ Logistics Branch, but also resurrected the divisional logistic units (although in a reduced format compared to the divisional logistic groups disbanded prior to 2006). Each divisional logistic group now has 700-800 vehicles, compared to 1,200 vehicles used in the old divisional groups.
"After the Second Lebanon War, a structured process of drawing lessons and conclusions was put into effect. Maj. Gen. Dan Biton led this effort, first as head of the IDF GHQ Doctrine & Training Directorate, and subsequently as head of the Technological & Logistics Directorate," explains Cohen.
A few months after the Second Lebanon War, the port of Ashdod in southern Israel was closed for a month to unload equipment and ammunition delivered to Israel to raise inventory levels, which had been mostly below the red line prior to the outbreak of hostilities.
"I estimate that 90% of the lessons of the war have been addressed very effectively. For example, following the war, operational competence indices were set for all of the logistic units, as was previously the norm only in the IAF. These indices are based on such criteria as the training standards of the forces, equipment quality, inventory levels, and more. In most units today, the level of competence is around 90%. Contrary to the practice that prevailed until 2006, in order to go below the red line, even for one specific item, the express authorization of an officer at the rank of general is required. Without such express authorization, no equipment may be issued from emergency inventories.
"We have covered a lot of ground with regards to the equipment of the reservist units as well. We are currently in the process of completing the replacement of personal gear and war-like stores in all units. Soldiers will never again arrive at the front lines without suitable gear.
"Most importantly, following the war, the Logistics Corps was removed from the responsibility of the Ground Forces Branch (to which it had been subordinate a short while before) and once again, became subordinate to the GHQ Logistics Directorate. In addition, we established unified responsibility in the field of logistics – from the GHQ to the level of the individual soldier.
"Beyond that, the logistics issue was incorporated in all IDF operational plans. Today, no plan is drawn and no exercise is conducted without fully incorporating logistics planning. During the Second Lebanon War, many IDF commanders did not consider logistic issues a part of their responsibility, mainly because they had become accustomed, over many years of low intensity combat operations in the territories, to a state where logistics support was delivered to them, all the way to the end units on the ground. Now, IDF commanders understand that as part of conducting combat operations, they must be responsible for logistic supplies on the ground, and that without logistics, their combat operations cannot be continued.”
What about opening logistic routes? Assuming that the rate of advance of the (combat) forces is faster than the rate at which the routes are opened, how will you deliver supplies to the ground forces?
"Today we have options of delivering supplies through aerial, land, and naval routes,” says Cohen. Though he did not wish to go into further detail, Cohen relates that a major share of the developments initiated by the IDF GHQ Technology & Logistics Directorate were intended to re-supply the forces through airlifting. Examples include the Flying Elephant project, a GPS-based unmanned paraglider undergoing development at Elbit Systems, portable water purification systems for forces in the field, and fire-proof diesel containers, which will be able to accompany tanks and bulldozers in combat, if necessary.
In the event of another war against Lebanon, logistics centers will endure heavier fire than that in 2006. How are you preparing for this?
"We understand that the threat has changed and that the fire we took in 2006 was only a sample compared to what we can expect in the event of another war, so we made the necessary adjustments.
"Among other things, we are conducting call-up exercises for reserve units under the assumption that the process will take place under heavy fire. We provided protection to the mobilization centers, dispersed our equipment and inventories throughout the country, and trained the logistics personnel to fight under fire. A part of our concept is to disperse the command posts as well. Each logistics command post that may come under attack has an alternative command post.
"Additionally, based on the assumption that the roads will come under fire, we developed a comprehensive command plan for the routes in cooperation with the Israeli Police, the Ministry of Transportation, the IDF Homefront Command, and other elements. Generally, the Technological & Logistics Directorate is fully responsible for the logistics of the IDF Homefront Command, and far-reaching changes were made in this field as well, based on the lessons learned from the Second Lebanon War."