A Strong and Short Maneuver is the Goal

The Head of the IDF's Ground Force Command tells IsraelDefense that the IDF is prepared to make "a strong and overwhelming maneuver into the heart of the enemy's layouts"

(Photo: Ofer Zidon)

A strong and overwhelming maneuver into the heart of the enemy's layouts will neutralize the missile threat to the homefront," says Brigadier General Eyal Zamir, head of the IDF's Ground Force Command. IsraelDefense met with Zamir for a special interview in advance of the May 21-24 2nd International Fire Operations Conference sponsored by the Artillery Association and IsraelDefense at the Artillery Association Memorial Site in Zikron Ya'akov.

Brigadier General Zamir is referring to the IDF's preparations for the next confrontation. The implication is clear: the next war will not be similar in any way, shape, or form to the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Back then, the IDF waged a long-range fire campaign during which enemy rockets rained down on northern Israel.

Now, the IDF appears ready to respond with a swift, incisive, lethal maneuver into the source of enemy missile and rocket fire – whether in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip.

"In a place like Gaza, a maneuver is rather limited, but in a large-scale operation, we see it as the decisive element," says Zamir.

"The enemy has altered his tactics over the last decade. According to our assessment, he's not building combat platforms to use against us or planning an in-depth operational maneuver into Israel. Instead, he's shifted to counter warfare. He's amassed a formidable missile threat at every level that is designed to strike at our population centers and destroy our combat platforms.

"The enemy wants to force us into battle. However, it is not in our interest to get drawn into a situation where we exchange fire in a weeks-long campaign, at the end of which each side claims victory.

"Our answer is to implement a decisive maneuver that will result in victory. The enemy is aware of our plans and has built very powerful defense envelopes. Therefore, to meet this challenge, we have to prepare a maneuver capable of overcoming obstacles that penetrate into the depth of their layout well beyond the first envelope."

How does this affect force buildup?

"We're building brigades, divisions, artillery formations, and other forces that can penetrate the enemy's defense and win the battle. Our goal is to have strong divisions that can perform a major maneuver (whether an infantry or mechanized/armored maneuver) with very powerful fire support.

Eyal Zamir (Photo: Meir Azulay)

Joint Fire

How do you plan to bolster firepower?

"We distinguish between statistical fire that lands on enemy layouts and precision fire. We're aware that the enemy exploits the urban environment, using human shields and civilian homes as garrisons. Therefore, our maneuvering layout is being built with extremely accurate fire capabilities.

"One of our directions is to create pinpoint accurate fire, and provide the divisional level with precise rocket fire for distances of 40-50 km. These are relatively low-cost ordinary rockets, not the very expensive missiles designed for special tasks."

Is a new rocket battalion in the works?

"The plan envisions every brigade and division equipped with a rocket battery. The division can then use the different batteries together or individually."

What about self-propelled artillery? The present self-propelled cannon, the M-109 Doher (Galloper) is already in its fourth decade of service.

"We're looking into a new canon. This, and providing the divisions with rockets, are two of the topics on the agenda after the dimensions of the budget in the next multi-year plan for 2013-2017 are known."

What about acquiring rockets with a 150 km range? There were reports that Israel Military Industries (IMI) is developing an EXTRA (Extended Range Artillery) rocket with this range.

"I prefer not to discuss this matter."

Target Acquisition

"Another element in the application of fire is intelligence," states Zamir. "The ability to convey quality intelligence that provides the fire and maneuverability to cause the enemy maximum harm depends on target acquisition and C2 (command and control) systems.”

The fourth element in the application of fire, whose importance cannot be overestimated, is inter-arm cooperation with the air force?

"Very valuable work is being done on inter-arm (air force-ground force) jointness for target acquisition, surveillance, and fire application using attack helicopters and warplanes. Not all the glitches have been ironed out, but progress is being made.

"For example, an inter-arm jointness school was set up at the Palmachim Airbase. Joint study days for ground and air personnel are held to enhance cooperation at different levels.

"Another area – unmanned aircraft – is also expanding at a rapid pace."

What about the plan for the ground forces and air force to develop a joint low ground level UAV? (The first two Skylark UAVs that Elbit Systems developed are currently undergoing operational testing near the Egypt-Israel border.)

"At present, no funds have been forthcoming for the project, so it's on hold. But we're carrying out replenishment with the Skyrider UAV (Elbit's Skylark 1). Eventually, every armored and infantry battalion will be equipped with it. This will be a very effective addition that will enable a battalion commander to view everything in a particular area without having to wait for intelligence reports from the division command."

Is the present IDF command satisfied with the decision for the last multi-year plan to procure a large number of Merkava Namer APCs by 2020, built jointly in Israel and the United States? This looks like a budget-consuming project. 

"The Golani Infantry Brigade is already fully equipped with Namer APCs, which we consider to be crucial. After decades, the infantry finally possesses a quality platform. An infantry soldier can't move on foot for the entire duration of a war. Infantry-armor combat teams need quality infantry that can perform armored assignments, penetrate the enemy's depth, and carry out missions on short notice.

"The enemy has vast quantities of munitions that can wreak havoc on foot soldiers. Therefore, when we speak about an overwhelming maneuver and joint combat, from our point of view, we need infantry platforms that can accompany and discharge the force. This is a major project, but as far as numbers are concerned, we'll leave that unmentioned."

A New Shahar 

"In addition to the Namer, new equipment has significantly upgraded the infantry in the last few years," says Zamir. "This includes the Keshet 120 mm precision mortar system, as well as the Shahar C2 system, which is being introduced to all battalion commanders and is part of the Digital Army Program (DAP).

In order to increase infantry effectiveness, we've added surveillance devices and many other layouts. On today's battlefield, a target's visibility is brief. The advanced C2 systems are like a railway network that connects forces at various echelons in order to shorten the sensor-to-shooter cycle. We're doing everything we can to actualize the concept that maneuverability is key."