A New Operational Concept for the IDF Artillery

The IDF Artillery Corps is busy adapting the operational concept to the cutting-edge weapon systems the Corps has acquired over the last few years. "Such a move may produce a higher level of effectiveness on the battlefield," says the Head of the Artillery Doctrine Department at the IDF Artillery Corps in a special interview with Israel Defense

IDF Artillery forces in training (Photo: IDF)

The IDF does not revise the operational concept of the Artillery Corps from end to end every year. 2018 will probably be the year during which the new operational concept of the Artillery Corps is incorporated in exercises and trials. The objective is to adapt the operational concept to the cutting-edge weapon systems the Corps has acquired over the last few years, which include, among others: improved gun assemblies, RPAVs, new computer systems and other elements, plus the new, higher-caliber gun system that's in the pipeline. The project started three years ago and is about to undergo its first proving trial.

"Over the course of 2017 we worked hard on the task of integrating the cutting-edge weapon systems we now have in the Corps with the new operational concept that knows how to utilize those systems," explains Col. Dubi Cohen, Head of the Artillery Doctrine Department at the IDF Artillery Corps, in an interview with Israel Defense. "A very interesting situation has emerged in the IDF, where the capabilities of the weapon systems have improved, while the philosophy regarding the employment of artillery fire remained behind. A major phase gap has emerged. A proper merging of these two elements can bring about an improvement in the accuracy of the existing weapon systems. To improve the accuracy of the fire we deliver from the 300-400 meter range to the 50-100 meter range – such a move may produce a higher level of effectiveness on the battlefield.

"The manner in which firing solutions are calculated, ballistic data are checked and the error balances are analyzed was up-to-date in the 1970s. The combat doctrine has evolved in a non-continuous manner. We accomplished a small leap at a time. The "Sheder Kham" communication system, laying procedures, muzzle velocity meters, meteorology – when you sum up all these leaps – they make up a major change, but today you must have a holistic view of all of your capabilities, not just of the marginal improvement in each sub-category. Within this activity we are undergoing a process of improvement with regard to meteorology data. We want to measure the temperature, wind and pressure data more effectively in real time.

"With the new operational concept, we hope to reach profiles where we will be able, under certain conditions, to hit the target with our opening salvo more accurately using the same existing statistical munitions. These munitions are not yet regarded as precision munitions. When the precision-guided shells have been introduced, we will obtain a CEP of dozens of meters. Under no circumstances shall we reach a degree of accuracy of a few meters with artillery fire. Everyone should bear that in mind."

Preparing for the New Gun System

Col. Cohen explains that the reduced ranges have a significant influence in urban and open spaces, as improved accuracy means enhanced lethality. "As you disperse more shells, your lethality drops dramatically," explains Col. Cohen. "The idea is to control the accuracy of the fire. Once you have attained this capability, you will be able to determine whether to disperse your shells (as in the event of a ridge, for example) or to be precise. We only want to make sure that we hit where we aim and not 400 meters away from that point. In the urban space, accuracy also prevents collateral damage.

"What we have here is a totally different calculation process for the weapon system – firing solutions that refer to all of the data as a single complex. In this way, you can switch from one firing space to another without dragging deviations with you. The practical implication is an improvement of the algorithms in the firing computer and frequent drills. All of this is done under the physical laws of the ballistic envelope. The lion's share of the activity is carried out within the IDF. External global parties are also providing consulting for the process."

One of the catalysts for the work being done in the Artillery Corps in recent years is the acquisition of the new gun system. The IDF chose the 52-caliber gun system by Elbit Systems, and in order to optimally utilize its capabilities, the operational concept must be revised. "When you look at the new gun, its range is a significant extension. With 39-caliber guns, you reach ranges of around 20 kilometers. With 52-caliber guns, you reach 30 kilometers using standard ammunition. Any error at such distances will produce a substantial deviation," says Col. Cohen.

"We want to take the new gun to the maximum, and our operations research is stuck in the past. In the past twenty years, we corrected almost all of the deviations we had dragged with us from previous wars. We switched to an Inertial Navigation System (INS) and solved the laying and positioning errors. In the world of meteorological errors, we are looking at global models with a forecasting capability. Today we have measurements that are lagging behind. We must program all of the wisdom into the firing computers and drill the men. This is the connection between the weapon systems and the operational concept. This research effort has been taking place over the last three years. We conducted a worldwide survey and gathered knowledge from all possible sources and narrowed the gaps. In some cases, we realized that the IDF was more advanced than the foreign countries."

Low-Level Airspace with Two Layers

Improving the combat doctrine is just one tier in a comprehensive program of the Artillery Corps that includes the introduction of high-precision shells, advanced ammunition, replacing the world of propellant charges with firing modules and introducing low-flying RPAVs. In the near future, the IDF Artillery Corps will start employing the new "Doher Shamayim" UAV by Elbit Systems, which is to operate within an airspace level that is higher than the one currently occupied by the "Rokhev Shamayim" UAV. The "Doher Shamayim" UAV will serve the brigade commander while the "Rokhev Shamayim" UAV will serve the battalion commander.

"The 'Doher Shamayim' UAV is a brigade-level RPAV with a long endurance that is expected to revolutionize the employment of the forces," explains Col. Cohen. "This is another step on the way to the autonomous operation of brigade-level formations in the execution of their missions. The primary advantage of this UAV is its size, which enables it to carry a diversified range of payloads for different persistent area surveillance missions. This platform should be able to carry out such missions as escorting, intelligence collection (surveillance), target acquisition, laser designation and others.

"We have been in the process of assimilating this UAV for the past two years and for the IDF Ground Arm HQ it is an opportunity to revise brigade-level combat operations. The objective is to provide the brigade with a significant independent airspace management capability. It is a complex process. Infantry brigades were not intended to operate with an independent low-level airspace."

Will this significantly expand the area cell for which the brigade is responsible? "For the moment – no. In the future, they may consider it. In 2018, we will conduct extensive trials with the new UAV," says Col. Cohen.

A part of the change pertaining to the aerial independence of the brigades and battalions of the IDF Ground Arm involves a change in the role of the artillery liaison officer, so that he may evolve into a function that coordinates all of the fire support capabilities and assets, on the ground and in the air. The new function has been renamed the 'Battalion Support Commander,' and discussions are currently underway between the IDF Ground Arm HQ and the IAF regarding the consolidation of the job description and the training program for the new function.

"At the battalion level, we realized that the old function of the artillery liaison officer, who knew how to employ mortars, guns and attack helicopters, is no longer relevant. The IDF has many other types of weapon systems, and that function must be familiar with all of them. When you look at the Romakh (AccuLAR-122) rockets, high-precision mortar shells, high-precision artillery shells and other precision-guided munitions currently available – these are four new skills the artillery liaison officer should be familiar with. The attack helicopters and fighter aircraft should be added to this list.

"A clear distinction should be made between two fire employment methods. There is the employment of fire by command centers, which relies primarily on C2 systems. In recent years it has become more significant, owing to the era of network-centric warfare and the technological evolution. There is another method, that of the maneuvering-assaulting unit, to which you assign an objective, and it attacks it. In this situation, what you see is what you attack. These are two separate and distinct methods. Sometimes it may be more convenient to employ fire through display screens, but in the case of maneuvering, there is no replacement for human-controlled employment of fire. When a maneuvering unit spots a house out of which it is fired upon, that target must be attacked, so you need someone to select the targets as well as the appropriate weapon systems.

"The artillery liaison officer has evolved into the Battalion Support Commander (BSC). We developed competence criteria and established a cooperative alliance with the IAF. In 2018, we will conduct exercises with this new configuration. The objective is to provide the BSC with both ground and aerial assets – mainly attack helicopters and fighter aircraft. We are cooperating with the IAF's combined arms operations unit.

"Another initiative we have been dealing with in 2017 is the strike school at Camp Immanuel (Camp Julis). It specializes in training the officers and commanders of the strike cells, at brigade level and over, in strike methods. They should be familiar with the fire employment policy of IDF GHQ, with all of the fire capabilities and assets of the IDF, with the restrictions and with how to employ fire correctly, with the supporting C2 systems and with the intelligence collection and 'incrimination' systems, and eventually practice all of that using simulators. The school is still under development, and it will be able to train hundreds of officers each year."

There is no doubt that the IDF Artillery Corps, along with the IDF Ground Arm HQ, are busy rebuilding the operational thinking for this activity. A revolution only takes place in the IDF every few decades – hence the unique nature of this process. One of the elements of this change, which has not been covered in the interview, is the revision in which the IDF Ground Arm HQ is interested – in the direction of combat task force formations. Col. Cohen says that the discussions regarding this matter have only reached an initial stage, so it is still too early to know which changes the Ground Arm wishes to introduce, and how the Artillery Corps should prepare for them.