Rockets instead of Aircraft‏

The introduction of missiles and rockets of various ranges into the combat setup of the IDF has facilitated the transition of the Artillery Corps from the tactical category to the strategic one. Special interview with the commander of the 334th Artillery Battalion

The 334th Battalion in exercise (Photo: IDF)

The decision made by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in 2018 to promote the concept of a "Missile Corps" within the IDF introduced into the security discourse in Israel the question of the status and position of the rockets and missiles in the combat setup of the IDF in the context of future confrontations. The introduction of missiles and rockets possessing ranges of dozens to hundreds of kilometers can take the Artillery Corps from the tactical category to the strategic one and provide the IDF Ground Arm with an autonomous capability to deliver close fire support to maneuvering forces. This is an opportunity to actually revolutionize the military thinking of the General Staff Operations Division, which would provide the IDF with new advantages on the future battlefield.

The variety of missiles and rockets IDF sources are talking about includes the Romach (AccuLAR-122) and cluster rockets (40-kilometer range), the EXTRA rocket (150-kilometer range), the Predator Hawk missile (300-kilometer range) and the LORA missile (300-kilometer range). The use of rockets and missiles in the IDF is not new, but to this day, the IDF has not consolidated any methodical thinking regarding the utilization of these weapon systems for the purpose of changing the way the IDF is employed in wartime. One should bear in mind another fact: at this point in time, the Defense Minister's decision and the statements made on the media notwithstanding, the IDF is yet to officially establish the Missile Corps or allocate dedicated budgets to this activity. The "Gideon plus One" long-term program, to be launched in 2020, may include such budgets.

Upgraded Artillery Corps 

Within the IDF Ground Arm, the element in charge of employing rockets is the Artillery Corps. The IDF purchases its rockets mainly from Elbit Systems (formerly IMI Systems). In recent years, the IDF introduced various rocket types into service, including the RAMAM trajectory-correcting rocket for the MLRS, the Romach (AccuLAR-122) rocket and the new Ra'am/Eitan rockets employed by the 334th Battalion. Regarding the long-range rockets, trials were conducted in cooperation with the Artillery Corps, but IDF sources remain silent as to the element in charge of operating them during peacetime. It is possible that the IDF has not yet acquired these rockets, and for this reason, the operating element is yet to be determined.

Romach (AccuLAR-122) is a precision rocket to a range of about 40 kilometers. The Ra'am/Eitan is a new-generation, precision cluster rocket developed on the basis of the original trajectory-correcting rocket. In addition to rockets, the Artillery Corps also uses precision guidance kits for 155mm artillery shells. The assimilation of the precision fire systems is a part of the change the Artillery Corps has been undergoing in the last two years, in the context of a new concept for the employment of military power. Essentially, the change is based on three primary elements: accuracy, range, and network-based operation. While in the past the artillery served as a statistical pin-down fire support force, the evolution of weapon systems in this category, including the integration of cutting-edge intelligence resources like UAVs and advanced C3 systems have enabled the expansion of the range of missions assigned to the Corps with regard to providing fire support to the maneuvering forces.

In the past, high-precision rockets faced several hindrances with regard to actual use, including a high cost, massive collateral damage, and poor reliability. During the Second Lebanon War (2006), the IDF had in use the MENATETZ (MLRS) rocket systems supplied by the USA. The munitions failure rate in those days was about 20%. Since that war, however, these elements have improved significantly, mainly owing to IMI Systems, which developed new rocket types the IDF has been acquiring. These developments led to a decrease in the munitions failure rates.

Close Fire Support for Maneuvering Elements

The 334th Artillery Battalion, operating the Romach (AccuLAR-122) and cluster rockets, conducted a fire training exercise with "northern" orientation last December, apparently in preparation for a future confrontation with Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the context of the training exercise, the battalion fired several rockets. The exercise profile included a complete leap-frogging maneuver where the entire battalion had to relocate from the Golan Heights to the Beit-She'an Valley. "The leap-frogging maneuver was a surprise, dropped upon us at the outset of the training exercise," explains Lt. Col. Or Levi, Commander of the 334th Battalion. "The objective of the exercise was to examine how we perform under conditions of uncertainty that simulate a wartime scenario. After the leap-frogging maneuver, we fired practice rockets. The fire training exercise adds to previous fire exercises we conducted in the course of 2018 in the southern sector, near the Gaza Strip. The objective was to test the battalion through substantial leap-frogging maneuvers between the various sectors."

The use of high-precision rockets by the Artillery Corps enables the IDF Ground Arm to provide close fire support to the maneuvering forces autonomously, without having to rely on the Air Force. "The Romach rockets are highly accurate and can hit buildings very precisely and provide effective fire support within short ranges," explains Lt. Col. Levi.

"The maneuvering element may be provided with high-precision firepower from a remotely located source. This changes the dynamics of cooperating with the infantry elements. In the past, the artillery and the maneuvering infantry elements did not really communicate. Since the introduction of the Romach rocket, combat support has entered the maneuvering element. This is the reason why the slogan of our battalion is 'Brothers in Fire, Together we Win': firstly, we are brothers within the battalion, and secondly, we are the brothers of the infantrymen in the maneuvering elements, lest we forget that."

The warfighters of the 334th Battalion also perform operational routine security assignments during their service term, mainly in the Judea and Samaria district. The Battalion operated in the context of various routine security assignments in recent years, including arrests and ambush operations. Some of these activities included actual encounters with terrorists. The friction between the warfighters of the Battalion and the field during routine operations helps to consolidate the connections between the rocket setup and the maneuvering elements during wartime.

Ready for Enemy Counterbattery Fire

One of the main challenges facing the rocket setup during wartime is to deal with enemy counterbattery fire after firing their rockets. While before the actual firing the mobile launchers can operate relatively covertly, after firing, they are exposed owing to the signature they have generated. "The Battalion practices defensive maneuvers, too. We are fully aware of the fact that the enemy also has steep-trajectory fire resources to various ranges, and effective protection can prevent unnecessary losses. In the context of our recent training exercise, we prepared for it and practiced it – and our activity even included the digging of personal foxholes," explains Lt. Col. Levi.

Another aspect of the employment of high-precision fire is the need for accurate intelligence. "Effective employment of fire is a formula of intelligence combined with fire resources at the end. We are connected to the Masu'ah and TZAYAD (Digital Land Army) C3 systems and receive intelligence data at the Battalion HQ and the individual batteries. This is a critical process intended to generate targets for high-precision fire. Unlike statistical fire, with high-precision rockets you look for specific targets," says Lt. Col. Levi.

"The rocket fire mission and the statistical fire mission are different missions and both are necessary. In the era of the Romach rocket, the artillerymen know how to select the appropriate fire resource as required. The Romach rocket provides an effective solution mainly for combat operations in urban scenarios. The effectiveness of the weapon system is not measured by the amount of projectiles fired, but according to the function of the weapon being used."

Maj. Eviatar Goldstein, Head of the Rocket Section at the Artillery Branch, Weapon Systems Department, adds that the launchers of the 270mm rockets (MLRS) can launch a diversified range of munitions, according to the mission at hand. "These rockets approach the capabilities of a missile. We have a different canister for every munition type and the operators load whatever is required into the launcher, according to the mission. During the Second Lebanon War, we had a high munitions failure rate. We contracted Israeli developers in order to improve the weapon systems, and today there are hardly any munitions failures, accuracy rates are higher and collateral damage is lower."

The Artillery Corps also introduced state-of-the-art simulators for rocket fire training, as well as gypsum training rockets that enable more frequent fire training exercises. With regard to future developments, sources at the IDF Ground Arm noted that they are currently hard at work developing the second-generation Romach rocket. The new version will feature improved steering methods, additional fins for improved trajectory adjustment and laser designation. "A development cycle may take between one month and five years to complete, depending on the requirements presented to the system," explains Maj. Goldstein. "We review the reference scenarios and build our force and our systems accordingly." 

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Photo credit: IDF

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