Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Major New Doctrine Planned For Israeli Air Force?

Generic Avionics to Set Path for the Network Centric IAF. Photo: Israel AIr Force / USAF
The Israel Air Force (IAF) is in the process of making significant changes in its structure and capabilities to enable it to destroy ten times as many targets from the air as it currently can.

In an extensive interview with the US military and defense news website Defense News, IAF air operations chief Amikam Norkin explained that the IAF would be implementing a new operational doctrine enabling the IAF to fire on many more targets within the same amount of time.

According to the Defense News article, the IAF has been able to greatly improve its so-called “Sensor-to-Shooter” capabilities. In plain English, Sensor-to-Shooter means the ability to take vast quantities of data and information – obtained through a variety of data links and sources – and then take advantage of this data through the use of laser-guided bombs and precision weaponry (Note: there is a nice summary of the components of Sensor-to-Shooter on website of defense contractor Thales). While I would strongly recommend reading the entire Defense News article, (particularly if you’re a military or strategic studies buff), two sentences in the piece jumped out at me:
Under the new concept, Israel will focus on “hurting the enemy where it hurts the most,” Norkin said, referring to leadership, commanders and significant war-fighting assets.“We won’t be able to push the enemy to the point where he can no longer shoot rockets and missiles. Therefore we need to push him to the point where he doesn’t want to shoot his rockets and missiles,” the IAF officer said.
The "Sensor to Shooter" Challenge
What does this mean in practice? One possibility is that the IDF is thinking about a future conflict with Hezbollah.

It is universally acknowledged that Hezbollah now has tens and thousands of missiles, some with enough range to strike anywhere in Israel. Given that the IAF will only be able to take out a small number of these missiles, the IDF believes the most critical thing it can do is strike Hezbollah’s leadership –  such as Hassan Nasrallah and his deputies – as well as other top Hezbollah assets.

Although the Defense News article does not mention this, one educated guess here is that the IDF hopes destroying Hezbollah’s leadership and other key assets would throw the Lebanese group into a state of confusion. The aim is to leave an enemy like Hezbollah leaderless, destroy its communication capabilities, and leave its forces on the front lines thrashing around like a chicken without a head.  In military jargon, this would be described as degrading the enemy’s “Command and Control” (C2) capabilities. In that context, if the IAF can truly destroy 10-times the number of targets within the same time frame, than Israel’s military leadership may hope it can rapidly end any conflict by quickly eliminating the enemy’s C2 capabilities.

Of course, there is the following question: Does the increase in the IAF’s destructive – even an increase by a factor of ten – allow the IDF to win wars without a major commitment to ground combat? Ground combat is very messy, especially against a guerrilla force ensconced in civilian areas, but aren’t “boots on the ground” still critical to winning the next conflict against Hezbollah or other enemies?? Based on the recent war in Gaza, it looks like the answer is a resounding yes – and that ground forces will still play a central role in the IDF’s military philosophy.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more details on the IAF’s plans in the Israeli press over time.

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