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  • Israel and the U.S. Reassess the Modern Battlefield
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 12:11 PM on Oct 27, 2011

    The Israeli military is changing its battlefield look as weaponry — some of it advanced — emerges in the Middle East, in part from looted Libyan arms migrating across Egypt and into Gaza through the Bedouin smuggling pipeline.

    Already loose in Africa are advanced SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles (from Eritrean military stocks) and SA-24s (delivered to the Libya military). Some of the SA-18s were given to Somali rebels. The SA-24s have simply disappeared and may be among those moved out of the country by black marketers. Certainly, less sophisticated SA-7 man-portable air defense system (Manpads) missiles have already been delivered to Hamas in Gaza.

    Other heavier surface-to-air missile systems were sold to Syria and Iran, although the sale of SA-20s ordered by Tehran has been put on hold. Nonetheless, the fact that they are on the world market makes them a potential threat even to stealth aircraft.

    “It’s not just the Manpads, it’s all of the land-based anti-aircraft missiles,” says Israeli army Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shmuel Yachin, the chief coordinator for Israel Aerospace Industries’ new land systems organization. “As a result, the amount you can rely on the air force has gone down because they will be busy solving the problems of anti-aircraft fire before they can come and help [small army tactical ground units].”

    Generally, it is in the first few days of a fight that air defenses are at their strongest and that small army units are at their most vulnerable.

    “You need to give more capabilities to the tactical levels so that they can conduct more of the mission with less outside help,” Yachin says. “When warfare started changing to low-intensity fighting against uncoordinated forces, it is small ground units that are doing the work — company, battalion, no more than brigade. So we have to bring all that technology developed for the air force, navy or whomever and translate it into better weapon systems for the tactical level.”

    An element that remains a mystery is what role anti-electronic and cyber-weaponry might play in the operational and tactical arena. The U.S. National Security Agency has the most direct contacts with Israel’s defense cyber-community. Military-to-military connections are nascent at best.

    “One of the things we continue to do is to work our way through what is our international engagement from Cyber Command,” says U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, chief of U.S. Strategic Command, which has responsibility for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), global strike and cyberoperations. “At this point, those are baby steps. I do not know if we have some relationship between Cyber Command and Israel.”

    “I can’t speak about it,” Yachin says. “It’s natural that we will want to explore in all directions that we can. Israel is doing a lot of work relating to communication network” security, particularly involving the linking of air and ground robotic vehicles. “Within five years, perhaps, robots will take their place in the land warfare arena. They will be able to conduct a mission as a group. This is the great technological challenge — to take a number of autonomous vehicles and combine them to work as a system in an operational context. This is going to be a big revolution.”

    Kehler notes that the U.S. is working the same areas.

    “We have to have layered defense” at all levels, he says. “We’ve added some protection, including restriction on how we treat ‘air gaps,’ which is part of the issue with remotely piloted aircraft [and other robotic] activities.”

    “Trying to do network-centric warfare depends on whether you can provide a communications network that can deliver and receive wide-spectrum communications. You need to be able to do this even at the lowest echelon so that two vehicles can speak to each other.”   

    As a result of some of the new threats, two key Israeli strengths — close air support and helicopter-mobile troops and attack helicopters — will have to play a less obvious role on the battlefield to survive. The force-structure shift is to more heavily armored ground vehicles, autonomous robot ground vehicles, more intensive, tactical battlefield surveillance of brigade-size maneuver areas of perhaps 5 sq. km. Surveillance packages could contain small, electronically scanned array tactical radars, signals intelligence and electro-optical/infrared sensors. These sensors can fuse the data, map the battlefield and present information to the forward-most units.

    Fire support will continue the shift to airborne standoff weapons, both armed and unarmed, unmanned aircraft, precision-guided artillery rockets with a vertical attack mode for use in built-up areas and a new technology that allows company, platoon or squad level commanders to locate and destroy their own targets.

    Tags: ar99, Israel, manpads

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