Since the 1980s, the IDF has not employed the Ground Arm to overpower the enemy and achieve overbalance on the battlefield. Years have gone by and recently, the IDF Ground Arm has reached an all-time operational low point. This low point led officers of the Ground Arm to argue that the IDF GHQ had turned the Ground Arm into a border guard. Brigades failed to train, the budget of the Ground Arm was reduced and the combat doctrine of the ground forces gradually became irrelevant for the modern battlefield.
In order to revitalize the IDF Ground Arm, a deliberation and analysis process was initiated under the heading "Yabasha Ba'Ofek" (= Land on the Horizon or "Land Ahoy!"). This process consisted of an in-depth review of the essence of the Ground Arm, namely – why does the IDF need a ground arm? What is the added value the Ground Arm contributes to the IDF? On the one hand, the process reviewed the current threats the Ground Arm has to deal with. On the other hand – it reviewed the actual capabilities of the Ground Arm.
The primary conclusion of this deliberation and analysis process was that the response intervals currently required on the battlefield had been reduced significantly and the Ground Arm does not possess the ability to cope with the new intervals. The people of the IDF Ground Arm reached the conclusion that the enemy exposure interval is the time required (by the enemy) to launch an antitank missile at an IDF target, from the moment the missile is launched to the moment it hits the target. As the terrorist organizations do not yet possess fourth or fifth-generation ATGMs capable of locking onto their targets and hitting them on their own, the enemy operators must remain exposed until the missile hits the target platform. Depending on the range, the exposure interval may vary between a few seconds for a target at a very short range and about 40 seconds for targets at longer ranges.
Another conclusion reached by the people of the IDF Ground Arm was that this reduction of the exposure intervals does not take place in a vacuum. Another change they noticed – the transition from open-terrain operations to urban warfare – further enhanced the significance of the short exposure intervals.
The urban warfare scenario plays into the hands of the enemy for two reasons: one – the enemy forces are thoroughly familiar with the combat zone and monitor it continuously, so they can promptly detect any changes taking place within that zone, and two – the combat zone also contains uninvolved civilians. The fact that the enemy forces are familiar with the combat zone enable them to spot the platforms of the IDF Ground Arm well in advance, as they enter the urban area, and this level of readiness helps them minimize their exposure intervals.
"He can spot you from the roof and go down to his concealed firing position on a lower floor while setting the timing that is convenient for him," explains a former senior Ground Arm officer. "In urban operations, the enemy always enjoys the element of surprise."
The presence of civilians in the urban combat zone enables the enemy to use them as human shields in order to escape from the combat zone after firing or at times of distress. Additionally, it enables the enemy forces to use civilians to form safety zones for themselves – areas where the IDF will not attack them for fear of killing uninvolved civilians. This scenario enables the enemy to take advantage of the media to generate publicity around the fighting that would de-legitimize the activities of the IDF in that combat zone.
Unbalancing the Enemy
These insights led the IDF Ground Arm to understand that the arm in charge of overpowering the enemy on the ground faces a stalemate. One of the former officers of the Ground Arm recalled that it was a difficult time at the IDF Ground Arm HQ. "We thought that the IDF GHQ was shutting down the Arm, turning it into a border guard. The realization that we were not relevant for the modern battlefield was right there on the table."
The people of the IDF Ground Arm realized that they must provide solutions to the enemy's strengths in order to restore the Arm's relevance and return the element of surprise to the IDF, prevent international de-legitimization of IDF operations during wartime and gain an operational advantage vis-à-vis the enemy's exposure intervals by being faster than the enemy.
In order to prevent de-legitimization of IDF operations, the people of the IDF Ground Arm realized that as early as the outset of the confrontation, the civilian population must be driven out of the combat zone. "If I am a Lebanese civilian who resides in one of the villages close to the border with Israel and a confrontation has broken out between Hezbollah and the IDF, I should leave my village as soon as possible and get as far away as I can from the combat zone. I do not envy anyone who remains in the combat zone," said a former officer of the IDF Ground Arm HQ.
In order to achieve the two other elements of the solution – neutralize the enemy's element of surprise and disrupt the operational advantage they enjoy owing to the reduced exposure intervals, the IDF Ground Arm conceived a program designated "Fire Canopy." This program combines specialized weapon systems developed for this purpose with a combined-arms integrated operational doctrine.
One of the conclusions was that the Ground Arm should have control over the air support element. As Israel is not the USA, the Ground Arm cannot expect to have its own air force. As an alternative, the ground forces may be provided with aerial platforms operating at the lower levels (dozens to hundreds of meters). These platforms will be fully controlled by the troopers on the ground. The objective is to help closing the fire loop within an interval that is shorter than the enemy exposure interval.
Admittedly, in those days the Tzayad (Digital Land Army) system was already in operation, but the loop closure intervals it offered were too long to match the actual exposure intervals required in a tactical combat scenario. For this purpose, the people of the IDF Ground Arm HQ cooperated with the people of Elbit Systems, the company that had developed the Tzayad system, and explained the conclusions of the "Land Ahoy!" process.
The objective was to come up with a system capable of synchronizing the operations of all three arms – sea, ground and air – into a fire loop with short response intervals. Such a techno-operational capability will undermine the advantage of the enemy's element of surprise so that the enemy forces would not be able to plan moves against the IDF platforms, and would also enable the Ground Arm to engage and destroy enemy targets with a higher degree of effectiveness.
The people of IDF Ground Arm HQ realized that in order to achieve the above objective, real cooperation must exist between the various arms. Up to that point in time, various attempts had been made to establish such cooperation, but funding and prestige considerations came into the equation and eventually, no real cooperation existed between the various arms of the IDF. Each arm developed its own protocols and weapon systems in a manner that prevented real-time exchange of information between the arms. In the event of a military confrontation, various patches and improvisations were devised in an attempt to link the individual arms together, but the IDF did not really 'play in concert.'
The IDF GHQ backed up the analysis process of the Ground Arm, and eventually, the commanders of the IDF arms started attending methodical work meetings. Everyone understood that unless they make it happen, the operational capability of the IDF will deteriorate to a level that would be detrimental to national security.
The organizational restructuring the IDF underwent in this context recently enabled joint weapon system and operational doctrine development processes. Even the IAF realized that a ground arm without close air support under its control will be incapacitated. Some of the new capabilities were put to the test in a recent training exercise, while others will be examined in future exercises during the course of the coming year.
Everything is Connected
Back to the "Fire Canopy" concept: this concept provides a technological fabric that links together all of the IDF platforms and troopers in a single, flat data channel. An example of the implementation of a similar concept may be seen in the Blue Force system of the US Army. The IDF wants a system that would not only link people, but every single element on the battlefield. A military IoT of sorts, linking together platforms on the ground, in the air and at sea, various weapon systems and so forth.
The "Fire Canopy" concept, in the context of which everything is connected to everything through a common data channel using a common ontology (in this context, ontology is the ability to conceptualize the battlefield to everyone and everything – people and machines – in the same manner) offers numerous advantages.
The first advantage is situational awareness. In order to cope with the reduced exposure intervals of the enemy forces and their advantage of possessing the element of surprise, our forces should be at least as aware as the enemy of the combat environment. In order to change the element of surprise to your advantage, you should be able to become aware of the environment faster than the enemy. Awareness, in the context of the fire loop concept, includes the identification-incrimination-destruction cycle.
Situational awareness alone is not enough if you do not couple it with the ability to respond within the same time interval. As these time intervals currently involve seconds or split-seconds, human ability constitutes a barrier. Consequently, the "Fire Canopy" concept included the development of automatic response capabilities alongside the situational awareness capabilities. These capabilities include missiles, multicopters, automatic firing mechanisms such as the one developed for the Merkava Mark-IV Barak tanks (the new version to be introduced very soon), high-precision rockets, fifth-generation Spike missiles connected to the network and various other capabilities.
The connection between situational awareness and automatic response capabilities equalizes the enemy exposure intervals and the response intervals of the IDF Ground Arm. All of a sudden, the IDF Ground Arm is relevant again. As stated, this program is currently under development by the defense industries and the IDF. The second-generation Tzayad system by Elbit Systems will be the primary element linking everyone and everything together. The development process is classified, but its principles have been reviewed above.
Along with the process of adapting the operational capabilities to the modern battlefield, the improved situational awareness enabled the IDF Ground Arm to improve with regard to war economy as well. As part of the "Fire Canopy" concept, the IDF developed an operational doctrine element designated "Fire Tender" (also known as "Fire Space"). The Fire Tender process means that in those few seconds or split seconds when the computerized system calculates how to engage and destroy a given target, it also examines the financial cost of the process.
The financial cost of an operational process taking place on the battlefield? As strange as this may sound, employing the IDF in the era of combined-arms operations costs a lot of money. As the Israel Ministry of Defense has patched up its relations with the Ministry of Finance during the term of the present Chief of Staff, the IDF has been investing considerable resources in efficiency improvement and in an attempt to find a way to engage in a measurable war – a war that will, on the one hand, converge into a given budget framework, while on the other hand enabling the IDF to accomplish the objectives of the political echelon.
One of the changes in the economic context the IDF Ground Arm underwent involved changing the terminology and adapting it to the world of modern counterterrorism. In the IDF they no longer speak about overpowering a regular military organization, but about accomplishing political objectives. Following Operation Protective Edge, the IDF realized that a counterterrorism operation can last nearly two months, even in a scenario like the one that exists in the Gaza Strip, and still fail to achieve a definite overbalance. In the case of Lebanon or Syria, the financial costs could exceed the cost of Operation Protective Edge many times over.
In addition to money, the IDF also considers inventories. Even the US Army faces problems regarding their weapon system inventories in their confrontation against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The primary causes of inventory problems are the high cost of the smart weapon systems required in order to implement such concepts as the "Fire Canopy" concept, the limited rate of production owing to the technical complexity of the weapon systems and the limited defense budgets that do not enable massive procurement prior to operations. Storage depots where lots of smart weapon systems are stored on the shelves are a burden to the taxpayer.
The Fire Tender system is intended to provide a solution to these challenges of war costs and wartime inventory management, as it also addresses chain of supply and weapon system cost considerations. Think of a system that knows the state of the inventory in real time, the cost of the weapon systems and the target engagement/destruction profile, and calculates everything within a split second in order to select the weapon system that is the most appropriate for engaging and destroying the enemy target – all within an interval that is shorter than the enemy's exposure interval.
The Combat Task Force is Back to Center Stage
Another economic tier surfaced during the process of deliberating the "Land Ahoy" program at the IDF Ground Arm HQ. Having charted the threats and having understood that the exposure interval is the foundation of the enemy's advantage, the Ground Arm finally realized that they must change their approach regarding the employment of ground weapon systems – mainly their platforms.
A ground force operating in an urban area conducts itself differently than a force operating in open terrain. The concept of employing massive firepower using 'statistical' artillery fire, massive armored columns and thousands of troopers is ineffective in an urban scenario. Such a concept will play directly into the enemy's hands – the enemy forces will take advantage of it to de-legitimize the operations of the IDF, to fully utilize the element of surprise and to employ "pop-up" tactics.
Instead, the people at the IDF Ground Arm wanted to adapt the operational solution to the threat. If the enemy operates in small detachments, in an urban environment and using "pop-up" tactics, the operational doctrine of the ground maneuver should be adapted to those characteristics. The solution chosen is the combat task force. There are combat task forces at the battalion level and at the brigade level. The concept is not new. Combat task forces have been employed by other armed forces as well as by the IDF since the 1980s – the First Lebanon War.
The selection of a combat task force made up of a small number of platforms of various types and possessing different capabilities, along with a limited number of infantry troopers, enables the task force to maximize the advantages of the "Fire Canopy" concept. The task force is adapted to operation in the context of urban scenarios. Its signature in the field is smaller, it is more agile, and the combination with the Fire Tender concept enables it to be as economical as possible.
The combat task force offers another advantage – and it is somewhat 'Clausewitzian' in nature. The combat task force makes it possible to undermine the strengths of the "disappearing enemy" much more effectively than the massive employment of force. The IDF Ground Arm adapted the solution to the problem, and if the problem is a decentralized terrorist organization operating in an urban environment, then the Ground Arm should operate in the same manner.
This realization led to two essential changes. One – the Ground Arm knows how to adapt the solution to the threat, namely – the objective may be accomplished more effectively using less force and fewer platforms. This way of thinking led to a reduction of the number of platforms in the Ground Arm's arsenal. The money saved owing to this cut was used by the Ground Arm to develop the measures required in order to implement the "Fire Canopy" concept.
The other change is the ability of the Ground Arm to manage a measurable war. If on the one hand the threat is definite and on the other hand the solution is definite, then the combat scenarios may be conceptualized through an economic perspective. This is the moment when you may say "but war is the realm of uncertainty." Admittedly – that has not changed, but economic planning of the preparations for war has always been relevant. Pursuant to the "Land Ahoy" process, the planning has become more accurate. The combination of economical techno-operational planning with an implementation system that enforces this kind of planning through the Fire Tender, enables the IDF to conduct a measurable war.
The "Land Ahoy" process has undoubtedly turned the IDF Ground Arm into a military organization capable of planning the war in a manner that is more relevant to real life with regard to the operational and economic aspects. The process led to the development of a techno-operational concept, the "Fire Canopy" concept, which enables the Ground Arm to enforce the planning. The synergy between the planning and the implementation in a maneuvering ground combat element could enable the IDF, in the next confrontation if and when it occurs, to accomplish the political objectives more effectively. "We succeeded in restoring the relevance of the Ground Arm within the IDF," concluded the former Ground Arm officer.