The artillery corps will soon be equipped with new self-propelled cannons and precision-guided rockets (PGMs),” says IDF’s chief artillery officer, Brigadier General David Swisa, in an exclusive interview with IsraelDefense.
“The corps needs a new PGM layout and automatic self-propelled canons in addition to semi-autonomous ones. We envision the application of powerful ground fire in coordination with the air force and navy.”
We asked the Chief Artillery officer how his determinedness squares with the fact that the IDF’s new multiyear plan is stuck due to uncertainty over the defense budget ceiling for the coming years (the upcoming five-year Halamish plan for 2012-2016 has been postponed for at least one year).
“If I’m reading the map correctly, the expected cuts and the current freeze in the multiyear plan are an opportunity for the artillery corps,” Swisa says. “I’ve studied all the aspects of the multiyear plan and their implications, and the only projects that will be included seems to be those that are either innovative or make a major contribution to the IDF.”
Let’s start with PGMs. Which new systems will you be relying on?
“The artillery’s concept dictates that in addition to MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems procured seventeen years ago, capable of firing cluster munitions at ranges up to 45 km) in the future we’ll have PGMs with ranges of over 100 km. The second channel is for every IDF division to be provided with PGMs (not MLRS) with ranges of 40 km.”
“I see PGMs as an alternative to warplanes. Naturally, not all of the air force’s missions are designed to assist ground forces, therefore PGMs will strengthen the ground forces as they will reduce their dependency on the air force. Today, if a battalion or brigade commander wants to target a house, he lacks the means. In the future, instead of waiting for air assets to be allocated, he’ll be able to zero in on the target with a degree of accuracy of less than 10 m.”
Will the PGMs be based on GPS navigation systems?
“Never! The artillery corps will never introduce a system dependent solely on GPS. No such system operates on the ground. We’ve made it absolutely clear to all of the industries that this is a non-negotiable condition for procurements.”
Where does the replenishment plan stand today, given the freeze in the multiyear discussions?
“It is true that the discussions are on hold, but I believe our plan will be realized because the ground forces have made PGM procurement a top priority.”
Can air force opposition prove an obstacle?
History has proven that many things have succeeded on the ground despite the air force’s initial opposition.”
A New Cannon
General Swisa believes that the artillery corps will also acquire new self-propelled cannons in the coming years.
“Our current self-propelled cannons are obsolete (the M-109 cannon entered IDF service in the 1970s) and the project pays for itself. Research shows that we’ll get a 50% return on the price of procurement if we cut down on the number of artillery pieces in each unit: instead of eighteen to a battalion, there will be twelve guns; instead of six to a battery, four will do. We’re cutting back by a third, but increasing our rate of fire, since the rate of fire that we’ve defined is between eight and twelve shells per minute per gun. Today, we can at most send off a barrage of four shells per minute, but only for the first three minutes, since the barrels overheat. The new cannons are designed with better barrels that aren’t limited to bursts of fire only in the first few minutes. Here too we are limited with the current equipment.
“Besides the savings in weapons, the goal is to also dramatically reduce manpower. The new cannon will be operated by a five-man crew rather than today’s ten, but even this number is too high and is kept primarily in order to retain the character of the battery.
“The system that we want will be automatic. The real challenge facing the arms manufacturers is to find a solution to the bottleneck: supplying the ammunition to the crew. We envision an artillery shell leaving an ammunition depot and reaching the self-propelled cannon automatically, without human contact.”
The proposals include new cannons as well as the option of upgrading the old M-109s. Which platform is the corps interested in?
“We’re interested in a new platform. As long as my voice is heard, I will never recommend upgrading forty-year old equipment. These self-propelled Howitzers are coming apart. It would be like trying to upgrade an old car. The artillery corps needs a new platform, one that I believe should be based on the chassis of an armored personnel carrier (APC), perhaps the Bradley APC that is available for a good price and exists in large supply. We’re interested in a standard platform for both the PGM and cannon systems.
“In general, we’re looking for a 52 caliber gun. Today’s 39 caliber weapon is antiquated and doesn’t meet the demand for ranges of 40 km and more.
“Besides the significant extension of range, the minute you have a 52 caliber weapon you can employ munitions with capabilities not in today’s arsenal. At present, we’ve reached the upper limit of the operational envelope of our cannons’ capabilities. But the diameter of the new cannon will have to remain 155 mm so we can continue using the existing stockpile of shells.
“Regarding propellants, we’re in the process of shifting to a modular propellant based on identical charges. If the propellant is modular, it saves you half the cost: fewer charges means less storage space and less wear and tear on transportation vehicles. We no longer purchase the old type of propellant.”
See It - Shoot It
The two systems that have especially evolved in recent years are the UAVs and PGMs. Last summer the artillery corps announced it had absorbed the Tammuz missile (an electro-optic missile that is used against quality targets at ranges of over 20 km).
“PGMs play a key role in our concept of fire application,” acknowledges General Swisa. “It’s a fire capacity that staggers the imagination. With patience, time, and intelligence gathering capability, it is the ultimate weapon. When the MLRSs arrived in the country in 1994, we were amazed by it’s short cycle: a radar blip spots a target (target acquisition), relays it to the rocket, and fires.
“In modern warfare, Target Survival Time (TST) is very short. Today’s technology provides another option: it enables the fire element to be linked to the intelligence gathering element and to see the exact same picture that it sees.”
Will PGMs substitute ground maneuvering and the regional command’s plans?
“Fire today doesn’t do away with maneuvering; it complements it. It reduces the forces’ maneuvering in certain areas because it provides them with other options.
“In the past, there was a clear distinction between maneuvering and fire support. Today, you have maneuvers and you have destructive offensive fire directed to an attack zone that the maneuvering element cannot always reach. Once, in order to perform a mission, you needed a maneuver or the air force. Today, even before we’ve acquired the PGM system, there’s already supplementary ground fire.”
And what about the future close support artillery?
“This too has changed on the modern battlefield. Only a decade ago, when a force commander arrived at an area of operation and saw the enemy in front of him, he would order forward charge. Today he orders PGMs onto the target. Three years ago, during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip there were very few close proximity battles.
“In the past, artillery batteries provided the maneuvering forces with close fire support. Today’s support comes from a variety of munitions–not just cannons. The ground forces maneuver on the field, UAVs and helicopter gunships fly above, and PGMs provide direct fire support, like the Tammuz missile does. Tomorrow there will be rockets capable of attacking buildings with maximum precision. These developments are only some of the changes in the concept of modern fire application.”
**Brig. Gen. David Swisa (Photo: Mier Azulay); An AGM SPG (Photo: KMW)