David Eshel writes from Tel Aviv:
Fighting in the Gaza Strip revealed key improvements in Israel Defense Forces operations since the flawed 2006 operation in Lebanon. Topping the list was the tighter coordination of air support and ground forces and graduated use of airborne capabilities that allowed air strikes by helicopter gunships to within 100 ft. of friendly troops.
One innovation was to activate veteran pilots from the Israeli Air Force reserve, some as much as 60 years old, and use them as air support coordination officers assigned to army corps and brigade headquarters. Each air-ground cooperation cell had up to five members who provided aerial intelligence, close air support and helicopter strike and transport and de-confliction of airspace in each brigade’s area of responsibility.
To ensure the secure and accurate communications between air and ground, each brigade was supported by a specific attack helicopter squadron. The squadron also provided a pilot to the cooperation cell who conducted all communications with the helicopters. The officer was authorized to call in more additional attack to reduce the workload on ground force commanders and the air/ground coordination chief.
Also folded into the IAF’s new capabilities were surveillance technologies that allowed the monitoring, identification, tracking and targeting of an individual in a crowd. Sensor to shooter cycles were reduced to less than 60 sec., sometimes as few as 15-30 sec. by networking information and choosing from air, ground and naval weapons to strike various kinds of targets.
The opening strikes on the Gaza Strip involved more than 100 aircraft attacking in several waves from both above and below the cloud cover. The target bank of weapon caches, supply tunnels, rocket production facilities and underground rocket launching sites, along with Hamas administration structures, were destroyed within the first four minutes of the attack.
The IAF then switched to a hunter-killer operation that involved scanning the entire Gaza area using UAVs, observation aircraft, monitoring signals intelligence and conducting radar surveillance to spot Hamas activity. When Israeli troops moved into the Gaza Strip, IAF activities switched largely to close air support.