At first we’ll experience a number of tough days. Rockets and missiles, directed mainly at the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The aerial defense will mostly defend strategic facilities and bases, in the big cities buildings will collapse and there will be casualties.
But it won’t last for long. The Israel Air Force will respond immediately, and after a few days we will see a significant drop in the number of missiles fired on Israel. A ceasefire will follow, there will be some more rocket fire, and then a truce and relative calm for several years thanks to the restored deterrence.
This is the serious but reasonable scenario the IDF is preparing for, and this is the political echelon’s strategic target. It will be a “high-trajectory war.” Whether the rocket fire comes from Syria, Lebanon, Gaza or Iran – the goal will to end it quickly in order to minimize damages and losses, while causing maximum damage on the other side, so that it feels the urgency to pursue a ceasefire.
Iranian missile test. A number of tough days (Photo: AP)
Israelis running into bomb shelters. Buildings will collapse (Photo: Idan Rodkin)
Israel Air Force (IAF) Commander Major-General Amir Eshel and senior IAF officers believe it is possible – and even more: With the intelligence, the arms and aircraft available at the Air Force’s disposal, they believe it could reach the described achievements on its own, without the IDF having to maneuver its way into enemy territory, and it must be allowed to do so.
If Major-General Eshel and his people are right, we are talking about a significant reduction in the number of casualties and a huge saving in resources considering the astronomic cost – about NIS 1 billion ($290 million) – of every day of fighting. What the IAF commander is suggesting is in fact a real revolution in the IDF’s combat perception, which will dramatically affect the need to equip and train the ground forces, and the budgetary list of priorities.
I already heard the claim that the Air Force can do the job on its own once before from Dan Halutz, when he served as IAF commander before being appointed chief of staff. That claim was proven wrong in the Second Lebanon War, and that’s the reason it still raises many doubts today.
Of course not all senior IDF officers agree with the IAF’s assessments. Many generals, who are aware of the Air Force’s abilities and respect them, still believe that the army must operate on the ground in order to paralyze the firing of thousands of rockets and missiles.
The short period of action is also seen as unlikely. The IAF officials respond with quite a convincing argument: If we are attacked suddenly, it will anyway take us time to gather all the ground forces and overcome attacks on emergency depots and traffic arteries. At the same time, we will have an opportunity to get the job done through aerial attacks. Simultaneously, they say, we are preparing to offer the ground forces significant help in the fighting.
Israel Air Force Commander Major-General Amir Eshel
The man in charge of the war in the north. IAF Commander Eshel (Photo: Air Force Media)
“We are not gambling,” Eshel explains. “We know that we are perceived both by the public and by senior state officials as the people of Israel’s insurance policy, and the expectations from us are high. Perhaps too high. But we are not confused. We remember that we’re not alone and we are building an ability to integrate.”
In Operation Pillar of Defense, he notes, the IAF prevented the need for a ground operation in Gaza, and the deterrence is more or less “working” till this very day.
I witnessed the IAF’s preparations to significantly improve its ability to aid the ground forces several weeks ago, when I joined a detention and patrol activity in the Hebron area, which was combined with preparations for a war: A drill simulating the takeover of a Lebanese village.
As we moved forward, the Paratroopers Brigade commander pointed at a fighter bending behind a terrace, and whispered in my war that his name is Lieutenant Colonel T., the F-16 squadron commander. Quite an unusual event in the IDF reality.
T., who was equipped and armed and acted like a regular fighter, explained naturally that he had joined the operation at his own initiative because he wanted to understand how the infantry forces move and operate during fighting and how he and his pilots could help them from close up – very close.
A warplane helping ground forces with gunfire and missile fire is a “natural” mission. A warplane dropping a one-ton bomb on a house and delaying the progress of a ground force – that’s an entirely different story.
But aiding the ground forces is not the IAF’s first mission. In the past two years, it has been preparing mainly for goal approved by the chief of staff, defense minister and prime minister – to be ready to shorten the fighting which could erupt at any minute, and this places immediate and even heavier responsibility on the shoulders of Eshel and his people.
Rockets launched from Gaza, sometimes from the heart of a civil population (Photo: AP)
Neutralizing tens of thousands of rockets and missiles in Lebanon and Gaza is a Sisyphean mission. The immobile launchers from which the missiles are fired to a larger range, with the heavy and relatively accurate warhead, are fortified and well hidden in the homes of citizens or in hidden launching holes (dug in the ground and operated by remote control); their operators move between them, rearm them and hit the IDF forces moving towards them through tunnels.
The main difficultly is using intelligence to locate them, and targeting them may also lead to the killing of uninvolved civilians and stir up the world against us.
Hunting for the portable launchers is even more difficult. It requires close surveillance of the launching areas, and if they are located – an aircraft or another instrument is needed to accurately hit the launchers’ truck while it is still exposed on the ground or while its driver is attempting to hide under the pillars of a building.
In the Second Lebanon War, the IAF was successful – facing a store of missiles which is at least six times smaller than what Hezbollah has today – but these missions proved to be tough even then. In addition ,the pilots will have to operate while bases are being fired on and defend themselves against Russian-made antiaircraft missiles which may have reached Hezbollah, or shoulder missiles which may have reached the Gazans.
In order to overcome the difficulties and climb up according to the extent of the task, the IAF has been undergoing some processes of change in the past two years. The most important process is the effort to increase the “attack outputs”: The number of sorties, but mainly the number of attacked targets and the damage inflicted on them.
Major-General Eshel instructed the IAF in as early as August 2012, three months after taking office, to prepare to carry out several thousand military sorties a day. The goal is increasing what he refers to as “the Air Force’s deadliness.”
In the Second Lebanon War, there were hundreds of sorties, and the number of attacked targets from the “target bank” was even smaller. Today, the bank of targets which can be destroyed has been expanded considerably, and the IAF is expected to complete the improvement of attack outputs very soon.
Locating rocket launchers from the air
But even that is not enough. In order to reduce the launches within a short period of time, a large number of targets must be attacked at the same time. For that purpose, the defense industries have developed an accurate guided armament which the pilot can launch at different directions like hail falling on a wide area, without giving up on the accuracy of the hit, the number and variety of the targets.
For example, a single F-16 can bomb more than 10 targets in different sites simultaneously. The abilities of the F-15 (of the old models) are much higher both in quantity and in the weight of the bomb, which can destroy underground fortifications. This aircraft, says Brigadier-General Tomer Bar, commander of the Tel Nof Base, can get very far with a heavy load and without aerial fueling. Not to mention the F-15i, which is particularly adjusted for long-term attack missions and aerial supremacy. The strategic meaning is clear, even if he doesn’t mention the target country.
In order to meet Eshel’s new speed and outputs requirements, the technical and logistic systems have also been analyzed and reorganized. Colonel Dan Tortan, commander of the Hatzor Base, says the technical crew “storms” an F-16 returning from a military sortie and prepares it for an additional sortie within a short while, similar to the crew which refuels and adjusts a Formula 1 car at a pit stop during a race. With the old methods it would take several hours.
Read more at Ynet Israel.