How can the IDF meet future challenges?

Merkava 4 tank credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson
Merkava 4 tank credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson

Caught by surprise on October 7, "Globes" examines how the Israel Defense Forces can adapt to meet the threats posed by Iranian-backed forces.

There is no disputing that the IDF simply wasn't prepared for the war that has been raging since October 7 in Gaza and along the northern border. Intelligence, operational and conceptual failures resulted in the biggest strategic surprise in Israel's history.

A continual reduction in the size of the infantry, armored and artillery corps, cutting patrols, lookouts and guards and relying on fences, cameras and sensors degraded some of the capabilities that might have slightly improved the response to the invasion of thousands of Hamas terrorists. In these circumstances, Israel's security forces will be required to restore the IDF's ability to cope with the current and clear threats: a war on multiple fronts, fighting tunnels, coping with massive numbers of drones and missiles and the need for ground maneuvers with large numbers of forces.

Back to the ground forces

Major General (res.) Itzhak Brik submitted to the Ministry of Defense and senior IDF generals a report in which he proposed the enhancement and improvement of the army even before the October 7 atrocities. He thinks that after cuts of thousands of tanks and half of the artillery corps over the past 20 years and an 80% cut in the number of reserve duty days performed between 2004 and 2017, the ground forces must be restored to their previous strength.

"There has to be a balance between the air force and the ground forces," he tells "Globes." "In recent years most of the budget from US aid has gone for aircraft and too little for the land army - but we must not pretend that if it works well for us in Gaza, it will work on other fronts as well. Gaza is a very small area where many units are concentrated. Therefore, there is no getting away from increasing the tank fleet - we see how it serves as a decisive war machine, in urban and rural areas."

For this, explains Brik, there is no need to invest billions in building new models of the Merkava 4 tank, as the Merkava 2 and 3 tanks can be upgraded and used for defensive tasks in Judea and Samaria for places where fighting is not intensive and crowded. "There are tanks that can be restored to fitness," he says. "We need to triple the number of tanks that we currently have. We were there 20 years ago. Brik adds that in artillery, the shortfall can be made up by procuring used equipment from foreign Western armies.

Return of the trackers

Brik continues that the number of ground forces should be increased, regional defense brigades should be brought back, and infantry soldiers should be equipped with anti-tank missiles. He explains, "The enemy already has equipped the terrorists' infantry forces with such missiles." As part of the regional divisions, he proposes to bring back the frequent patrols along the fences, to increase the number of mobile observer units, to also include those female lookouts who staff the war rooms, and to return to service the many trackers that have been fired.

There is room, according to him, to equip the observation and lookout system with more tactical technological means, and to bring back compulsory military service for 3 years, and not the current two and a half years.

Expanding the ammunition inventory

Missile defense expert Uzi Rubin, the former head of the Israel Missile Defense Organization and currently a researcher at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, claims that the multi-front threat confronting Israel in the current war requires a substantial thickening of its integrated air defense system, which includes interceptor missiles as part of defense batteries against ballistic missiles.

"The big question that needs to be asked today is how deep Israel's ammunition inventory for future threats is. Israel needs to be in a place where it will have a large air defense ammunition stockpile, and also that there will be enough Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow interceptors for its future generations. If we look at Ukraine, it seems that their main challenge in two years of fighting is obtaining ammunition from the West, and without ammunition they basically have no air defense."

Rubin also points out that it is not enough to just increase the number of interception batteries and interceptors, but also to reduce their costs. The price of an Arrow interceptor like the one that neutralizes the Houthis' cruise missiles in the air is $3 million. Each David's Sling interceptor missile costs the Ministry of Defense about $1 million, while the cost of each Iron Dome interceptor missile is about $100,000.

"It is possible to lower the costs to $50,000 per missile through engineering developments, even for a minor decrease in performance, and it is also possible to produce it in countries where production costs are cheaper, or to rely on cheaper parts," he says.

Laser weapon systems

One of the most talked about developments in Israel's future air defense system is the Iron Beam laser weapon system, developed by Rafael and Elbit Systems to intercept very short range rockets and drones. Brik sees laser weapon systems as a cheap and effective solution as lower cost alternatives to Iron Dome and Arrow.

Iron Beam fires a 100 kilowatt laser beam at the rocket or drone and causes a heat explosion. Each shot will cost just a few dollars but Rubin insists that the laser option is far from being realized, and will anyway not be operable in rainy or misty weather conditions.

Brik argues that it will be possible to equip planes with the laser systems and perform interceptions above the clouds but that would require a generator to produce high tension electricity installed on a heavy aircraft. In addition, each laser beam can only deal with one missile at a time while Iron Dome can intercept several missiles simultaneously.

Introducing a Missile Corps

Experts recommend strengthening Israel's attack capabilities against its enemies by establishing a ground-to-ground Missile Corps for ranges of dozens to hundreds of kilometers fired from mobile launchers. Brik says this would help neutralize targets beyond the border through firing by air force squadrons and from other strategic centers.

Rubin thinks that there is no need to set up any special corps but rather to make the interceptors part of the air force.

The doctrine of combatting drones

The drone threat was clearly demonstrated by their performance in dropping grenades on IDF observation cameras. Drones also infiltrated Israeli airspace after being dispatched by pro-Iranian forces in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Israel needs to develop, like Ukraine, a comprehensive doctrine for combatting attack drones and systems that disrupt drone signals in order to fight the growing threat.

Israel must also find cheaper solutions for downing drones rather than by Iron Dome and Patriot missiles as it does today.

An Iron Dome on every ship

Rubin claims that the Israel Navy is expected to play a more decisive role in defending against missiles. The Saar 5 vessel and recently launched Saar 6 vessel can carry the Iron Dome system on board. "The navy is mobile, which makes it more difficult to destroy the batteries. The area that the vessel can cover is broad and in a way that will allow the navy to protect a large part of the coast."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on December 10, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Merkava 4 tank credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson
Merkava 4 tank credit: Ministry of Defense Spokesperson
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