Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #9 2019, translated exclusively for SouthFront; Edited byAlexD
The ground forces (GF) are the main and most numerous branch of the Armed Forces of Israel and are intended for the defeat of enemy forces during offensive or defensive operations from various directions. The main task of the GF is to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state during possible military conflicts in the region.
The key strategic formation of the Israeli ground forces is the military district. With the start of hostilities, it is transformed into a front, and the headquarters of the army corps are expanded into a war complement. The highest tactical formation of the ground forces is the division.
Direct control of the ground forces is carried out by the commander through the command of the GF and the headquarters located on the territory of the base of Bar Lev (Kiryat Malachi, 35 km south of Tel Aviv).
The main objective of the command of the GF during peacetime is to organize combat training of formations and units of the ground forces, to maintain them in combat readiness, as well as to ensure their daily activities. The General Staff of the Israeli Armed Forces, to which the commanders of the three military districts: North, Central and South are directly subordinate, is responsible for the overall operational management of the permanent alert and reserve units. They report to the Army Command only on combat training issues.
The land forces consist of: divisions – 11 (territorial – 5, armoured – 4, motorized infantry, airborne); separate territorial brigade and artillery regiments of brigade personnel – 8.
The weaponry of the GF consists of: battle tanks – about 2,800 (Merkava Mk2, Merkava Mk3, Merkava Mk4 and others); armoured personnel carriers and armoured combat vehicles – about 7,000 (BTR M113, Hamer and Akhzarit); field artillery guns, mortars and MLRS (100 mm and above) – over 2,900 units; anti-tank weapons – up to 2,500; anti-aircraft guns – over 3,500 units.
At present, the personnel in the GF numbers approximately 130,000, and after mobilizing the reserve, the number is increased to 515 thousand troops.
The Israeli armed forces have established territorial units to perform security and control tasks in the occupied territories, to combat terrorism, to protect and defend parts of the State border, and to prevent cases of illegal crossing and smuggling. Depending on their mission, they may report directly to the military district command or be part of one of the formations.
Five territorial divisions have been formed in the ground forces, which in peacetime include three to five territorial brigades or separate battalions. As a rule, territorial brigades in wartime are formed at the expense of conscription of reserve servicemen. The structure of the territorial division includes units and support units, such as a communications battalion, reconnaissance battalion, medical unit, as well as logistics support units.
The reason for the establishment of the territorial units was the absence of a border service in the country, hence the functions of guarding the state border are entrusted to the armed forces. However, the performance of such tasks by combat units and units leads to the diversion from basic functions, which negatively affects their training.
The Army consists of the following types of troops: armoured, motorized infantry (infantry) and airborne, artillery, engineering, intelligence, as well as military police, communications, missile artillery and logistics services.
The armoured forces are the main striking force of the ground forces. They are highly resistant to the damaging factors of modern weapons and are used mainly to carry out offensive operations on the main directions as part of the strike groups, defence operations in the second echelon and reserve for counter-strikes and defeating the enemy’s counter-penetration force, as well as in the first echelon to strengthen the activity and stability of the defense.
Motorized infantry and airborne units are capable of carrying out their tasks in a variety of environments and operating in the following ways: in the main or secondary direction, in the first or second echelon, as well as in the reserve. In the Israeli Armed Forces, the motorized infantry and airborne divisions consist of one high-readiness brigade and four reserves.
In addition, sabotage and reconnaissance groups of various purposes can be formed from the composition of the airborne formations to perform tasks behind enemy lines, including in the interests of the Joint Special Operations Forces Command (JCFOR) established in 2011.
Artillery is an important means of targeting the enemy. It is designed to suppress and/or destroy the enemy’s main firepower, its command posts, communications centres, tanks, BMPs and APCs, anti-tank systems, destroy its fortifications, remotely mine the terrain, counter-battery combat, light support for combat, and aerosol (smoke) operations screens, as well as other tasks.
The country’s ground forces intelligence units are designed to collect information about the armed forces of a potential enemy, provide reconnaissance data for units and subunits, counter penetration by militants into the Israeli territory, target combat aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles, destroy important objects behind enemy lines during raids, monitor the situation in the border zone, collect information about the actions of a potential enemy.
A characteristic feature of the Israeli intelligence units is their widespread use for raid purposes.
The engineering troops provide appropriate support for units and formations of the ground forces during combat operations.
The communications service is intended for the deployment and operation of communications systems (including computer systems), as well as for the organisation of sustainable and continuous management of troops in all combat activities.
The missile and artillery armament service perform the following functions: maintenance and storage of all types of operational-tactical and tactical missiles and their warheads, delivery of missile weapons to the troops, providing units and subunits with artillery weapons, equipment, and ammunition, repair of faulty weapons and military equipment.
The logistics support service provides timely provision of material and technical means to the troops and the organisation of the evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield.
The Israeli military leadership considers operational and combat training as the most important condition for maintaining a high level of combat readiness of the ground forces. Military combat training activities are carried out on the basis of an operational and combat training plan, as well as taking into account the specifics of the military and political situation in the region and are aimed at solving the following tasks: preparing reserve units for participation in operations, maintaining troops in border areas in a condition that provides reliable protection of the Israeli territory; increasing the level of combat readiness of headquarters and troops; improving the operational and mobilization deployment system of units and formations, and maintaining their combat readiness for participation in local conflicts.
Combat and operational training of the ground forces is designed as a one-year cycle and is carried out in the form of command and staff training and exercises, tactical or tactical drill exercises under the leadership of commanders or command units, standing at a higher level.
The combat training of personnel includes four stages: basic; by specialty; as part of the brigade, unit and platoon, and training as part of a company and a battalion.
The permanent combat readiness divisions, as a rule, conduct one exercise every two years with live fire and one command post training, while brigades and battalions conduct exercises annually.
During company and battalion manoeuvres, Israeli units primarily practice operations in conditions of military conflicts and against the background of special operations. Meanwhile, considerable attention is paid to working out the issues of combating subversive groups and fighting in the settlements, actions are being worked out in conditions when the enemy actively uses anti-tank weapons, MANPADS and MLRS.
In addition, military personnel are more actively studying the combating terrorist groups’ tactics. During the exercises, the personnel of the GF reconnaissance units and the special forces units pay special attention to work out issues for countering terrorist groups that have entered the country, releasing their hostages, and also protecting important industrial facilities.
According to Israeli military experts, the main threats to the country’s security at the moment are rocket attacks on the rear regions and terrorist attacks, for which the naval forces are preparing for unconventional wars in the conditions of densely built areas, typical of various settlements (from villages to large cities). It is noteworthy that the duration of the armed conflict involving the Israeli Armed Forces may last up to 30 days.
Formations and units of the Israeli ground forces are divided into on-duty personnel and reserve.
On-duty personnel formations are fully staffed with personnel, weapons and military equipment and are ready at any moment for military operations in the area of responsibility of the military district, or for deployment to another front, while reserve formations have only sufficient weapons and military equipment. However, only personnel reduced by 10-15% can maintain weapons and equipment in combat readiness, as well as when measures to ensure the timely deployment of troops when mobilization is declared.
According to the combat readiness category, formations and units of the ground forces are divided into high-readiness formations, as well as the reserve of the 1st and 2nd stages. In peacetime, high-readiness formations and units are fully manned, supplied with weapons and equipment up to almost 100%, the reserve of the first stage is manned no less than 50%, weapons and military equipment sitting at almost 100%, and the second stage reserve is manned with no less than 10-15% with weapons and military equipment at 80-90%. The military equipment of the high-readiness units and reserve of the first and second stage is completely filled with fuel and lubricants and loaded with ammunition.
The following standards have been established for transferring formations and units of the ground forces to a state of “full combat readiness”: for high-readiness formations – 6 hours (for formations and units on alert – 2 hours), for reserve formations of the 1st stage – 36 hours, and of the 2nd stage – 72 hours. The reserve personnel are assigned to those units in which they can arrive within 12 hours after the announcement of mobilization. If they’re abroad, the arrival time is increased to 2 days.
The Israeli military and political leadership are carrying out a set of measures as part of a five-year programme for the development of the national armed forces, known as the Gideon Plan, including the ground forces until 2020.
The General Staff (GS) carries out the task of updating the armoured vehicle fleet: instead of obsolete tank models (M60A1/ AZ, Patton, Merkava Mk1, Merkava Mk2), Merkava Mk4 tanks equipped with the Trophy active armour protection system are being acquired. In addition, the military leadership decided to abandon the continued development of the Merkava project, and at the present stage of R&D are developing new prospective models of armoured vehicles.
Engineers and developers of new equipment plan to achieve a twofold reduction in the combat weight of the new model, and as a result of further digitalization of the equipment, reduce the number of crew members to two people. Completion of work on the creation of new equipment and the beginning of the rearmament of the Israeli GF, with a new armoured platform of a modular type is scheduled for 2024.
According to the development plan, the Lance operational-tactical missiles of two separate artillery divisions have been decommissioned.
In exchange, it is planned to supply the universal Lynx MLRS system, which allows the installation of two containers on the same launcher, each with six M26 missiles or 20 122-mm Grad missiles (range of 20-40 km), or LAR-60 missiles (45 km) and four 300 mm Extra (120-150 km), or one operational-tactical missile Delila (range of 250 km).
A new data transmission and target designation system has been put into operation, which provides the command with the necessary information to make operational decisions in real time. It also makes timely updates to the data and carries out operational calculations, and enhances the ability to interact between the military branches, units and formations.
Small-sized reconnaissance UAVs for tactical purposes are being developed, in order to use unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance support of the ground forces. At present, the Skylark UAV (manufactured by Silver Arrow, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems) is widely used by the ground forces.
The special artillery unit of the GF adopted the Harop reconnaissance-strike UAV, designed for air reconnaissance and destruction of enemy ground (or surface) targets. The UAVs are launched from a container-type mobile launcher using a solid fuel accelerator, after which the UAV unfolds its wings, starts a mid-flight turbojet engine and starts flying.
A special feature of the drone’s combat application as an attack vehicle is the possibility of directing it to a target in manual or automatic mode and detonating it at the moment of contact.
Range of usage is up to 180 km, maximum flight speed is 200 km/h, maximum take-off weight is 135 kg, maximum flight duration is 6 hours. The payload includes an assortment of equipment weighing up to 10 kg and a separate container with explosives weighing up to 17 kg.
In addition, Hermes 900 (Kochav) UAVs are used during hostilities to support the ground forces units.
Israeli military experts do not confirm or deny the capabilities of the Hermes 900 and Heron-TR UAVs (organizationally part of the Air Force) to deliver high-precision air strikes with air-to-ground missiles.
The special unit of the engineering troops Yakhalom received the new special equipment – the robotic platform Talon-4, made in the USA, which is used to search for, study and neutralize explosive devices in underground tunnels and closed structures.
New models of infantryman’s individual protection kits were supplied to the GF, which includes a new modification for the bulletproof vest, helmet, special goggles and ear protection. The troops received about 4,000 new sets and later it is planned to equip all infantry units with them.
The command of the Israeli Armed Forces, following an assessment of the military operations of the motorized infantry units, decided to esblish additional units in the motorized infantry battalions – artillery support teams. Each of them will have a ground fire control team and an aviation liaison team, and they will be under the command of the most trained artillery officers.
The purpose of the forming of such groups is to improve the capabilities of the motorized infantry divisions to conduct artillery reconnaissance and engage the enemy, to improve the interaction between the motorized infantry and artillery divisions, as well as with the army aviation. Their main task will be to plan the combat use and the management of artillery units that are part of the battalion, the timely discovery of the positions and destruction of enemy artillery, and the adjustment of artillery fire and army aviation operations.
Thus, the military and political leadership of Israel attaches paramount importance to the development of the ground forces. Organizational-staffing and operational-tactical activities are carried out as part of the five-year programme of development of the Armed Forces of the country “Gideon”, which lasts through the end of 2020.