Reinforcing a Weak Link: IDF Channel Resources to its Battalions

This year, the training budget of IDF will be allocated mainly to the empowerment of the battalions, along two primary axes: improving their competence in the employment of new weapon systems, and improving their combined-arms warfare performance. IDF sources stressed that the process in question is a continuous process of revising the training outline of IDF, which is expected to continue into the future, so as to adapt to the changing threats


Photo: IDF spokesperson unit

An article by Yoav Limor published earlier this week (Tuesday) revealed that IDF are changing the structure of the training activity of the IDF brigades for 2020. According to the report, unlike previous years, no brigade-level exercises have been planned for this year. Following the reports, IDF sources explained that the training budget for this year will be allocated mainly to the empowerment of the battalions, along two primary axes: improving the battalions' competence in the employment of new weapon systems, and improving their combined-arms warfare capabilities. Apparently, IDF had reached the conclusion that the battalion formation is the weakest link that needs to be reinforced in anticipation of the next war.

From the General Staff to the Battalion Commander

"If we wanted to train the battalion commander in the employment of UAS or in the employment of air power through the 'Fire Space', we would not be able to accomplish that through the normal training activities we have been conducting thus far. Additionally, one other objective is to train the armed forces, throughout the chain of command, from the General Staff down to the battalion commander, in the context of the same training exercise. To review how the entire chain works in wartime," the IDF sources explained.

The implication of this reasoning is that as far as the battalion is concerned, IDF want to place the emphasis on the employment of the fire support capabilities. Over the last few years, IDF have invested substantially in the force build-up at the battalion level, based on the concept that the battalion is the most important formation in combat operations. In part, this concept is intended to enable the employment of a combined battalion combat team incorporating such capabilities as artillery, armored elements, infantry elements and other elements. This concept is not new to IDF or to other armed forces around the globe, but now IDF want to produce suitable training activities, based on the concept that in the next war, they would like to have Battalion Combat Teams operating within the brigade formation.

The Battalion Combat Team formation will allow the battalion more freedom in achieving its objectives within its assigned geographic boundaries, independently of the formations above it (brigade, division). Integration with the spatial concept (fire, communication, and logistics) will provide the battalion with even more freedom of operation by "exempting" it from responsibility for the boundaries of the assigned space. If the battalion wants to call in fire support, logistic support or communication support, it will simply "order" them, and an amorphous space behind it would deliver whatever it requires, within relevant response intervals and subject to an economic regime through a "fire tender".

The thesis maintains that a battalion should capture territories quickly in order to defeat the enemy as soon as possible and capture dominating points in the assigned area. The more the battalion will deal with this task and less with such questions as how to deliver fire, logistic or communication support, the more successfully it will fulfill its function. The concept is not new and has been under discussion in the IDF for a number of years, but apparently, the new Chief of Staff aspires to have it implemented.

One of the complaints voiced by sources who spoke to Israel Defense over the last year regarding the training of Battalion Combat Teams has to do with the fact that IDF had done that only "cosmetically". In other words: they assembled companies from different content worlds that do not normally train together, and instead of establishing an organic formation, they produced a misrepresentation for the benefit of the specific training activity. Other complaints raised in Yoav Limor's article involved the general lack of training activity at battalion level.

The new organization of the training outline will include a major training exercise by one of the IDF's regular divisions over the course of 2020, which is to simulate a wartime scenario involving the entire chain of command – from the General Staff to battalion level, including involvement by the IDF Intelligence Directorate and spatial employment of fire in cooperation with IAF, to practice combined-arms operation.

Enemy-Specific Training

At the same time, last year the Chief of Staff held a review of the IDF Southern Command and this year IDF Northern Command will undergo a similar review. What are these reviews? In the context of the review, the General Staff reviews all of the battalions in the specific sector with regard to the aspects of preparedness at the individual level (combat fitness, employment of weapon systems and so forth); at the enemy level (suitability of the training activity to a specific enemy); and at the command level. In this way, IDF will obtain a realistic feedback from the field as to the preparedness of the battalions for combat in the south or in the north. In this context, the training activities will be conducted along two axes – a general axis, as was the prevailing norm to this day, and a sectoral axis, namely – the ability to fight against a specific enemy in a specific sector (the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, or Syria).

The expected investment in the battalion and company levels might neglect the brigade level. Apparently, commanders of reserve brigades could argue that this training method abandons them, leaving them unprepared for the next war. Moreover, holding one divisional exercise per year might "swallow" the unique training activity of the brigade commander and leave him only partially prepared for managing his brigade within the divisional formation. IDF sources claim, however, that the new training method to be implemented this year has undergone deliberation and processes vis-à-vis reservist brigade commanders, among others. "Not everyone agrees with the change, but this is the way of the military. We constantly review ways to prepare the armed forces in the most appropriate way for the next war," IDF sources said.

The reduced number of physical brigade-level training exercises will be offset by the simulators IDF operate for the benefit of the Ground Arm. These systems simulate the operation of a brigade in wartime. In recent years, the simulative world has occupied a substantial volume of the training activity of military formations in Israel and around the world. The shift toward simulators was intended, in part, to achieve financial savings, but mostly to improve operational competence. Some wartime scenarios cannot be simulated in physical training exercises – only using a simulator. For years, IDF have been training senior reservist officers by using "mind games" where the enemy element is simulated, based on a system by Rafael. In recent years, IDF have also purchased simulators by Elbit Systems, Bagira Systems and Sindiana Technologies. Additionally, IDF have been developing their own simulators for various activities.

In the case being addressed here, the use of simulators is not intended only to save money. IDF intend to use the same training budget, but to divide it differently, by honing the sharp edge instead of honing the brigade echelon. The differentiated investment in the training of different formations should not come as a surprise for anyone. For some time now, IDF have differentiated between the brigades and the battalions according to the prevalent operational need. For example, the Commando Brigade trains at a frequency that is different from that of the Givati Brigade or a divisional artillery group. Likewise, the financial investment in the different formations is not equal. IDF do not advocate or implement socialism. The IDF are being run as a business enterprise, managing their investments in resources according to their anticipated use and the value that each formation is expected to provide to the over-all wartime effort.

What are the Measurement Standards?

The new training process is an initiative of the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi. To his credit – Kochavi does not shy away from facing internal or external criticism, and uses the funds of IDF to reinforce the weak links, believing that the battalion is the primary formation in wartime, on which the military relies in its combat operations. IDF sources stressed that the process in question is a continuous process of revising the training outline of IDF, which is expected to continue in the coming years, so as to adapt the IDF to the changing threats in the various sectors.

The process in question is undoubtedly necessary for IDF, which, for years, have been drilling the top echelons in the same profiles again and again, regardless of the changes that had taken place in the theaters or in the nature of the enemy. One question remains unanswered, however: how will IDF measure the change in the training outline? In other words – what is the methodology developed along with the new training program, that would enable the General Staff to evaluate, as scientifically as possible, the effectiveness of the change? IDF sources claim that such measurement is a complex undertaking, which currently relies primarily on the subjective evaluation of the command elements, without any independent, universal quantitative scale.



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