With the role of artillery shifting, Israel spearheads change
Israel's artillery corps is undergoing a virtual revolution. Not only will it be equipped with new self-propelled (SP) cannon, precision rockets and missiles, and state-of-the-art command, control, computers and communications, but its operational role will reflect a new concept, making artillery an equal part of the combat force versus being a support element.
The change comes as the traditional role of artillery is shifting from its historical approach—overwhelming, statistical fire—to precision fire. That precision is made possible by accurate positioning and more precise tube artillery fire, enabled by using more accurate propellants, as well as better weather measurement and accurate fire-control capabilities down to the individual gun or rocket launcher. Autonomous SP guns equipped with accurate position finding and sophisticated ballistic computers already enable the artillery battalion to deliver more effective fires in a shorter time. In the near future, the fire effects could be improved to deliver artillery with even more confidence, and within shorter safety ranges of friendly troops.
According to Brig. Gen. David Swissa, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of artillery, the introduction of new systems will cut down the number of firing units. Instead of 18 pieces to a battalion today, there will be 12; instead of six per battery, just four. Given the availability of new equipment, greater precision and more efficient set-up procedures provided by the autonomous platforms, Swissa predicts that the rate of fire will even increase.
Since early 1990s the IDF has also maintained high-precision weapons, controlled by the artillery corps. These were developed under a secret program by the state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems company, enabling the artillery to engage armored columns and other tactical-level targets from ranges of 25 km (15 mi.) using the Tamuz guided missile (which later evolved to the non-line-of-sight, or NLOS, variant of Spike). The system required the IDF to establish and operate special target acquisition and missile units, which supported the divisions and brigades with precision fires. Rafael has recently introduced an advanced Spike NLOS missile launcher carrying 10 missiles, along with target acquisition, data link and communications equipment all packed in an armored, air-transportable Sandcat tactical vehicle.
While the modernization of tube artillery is an evolutionary step (that arguably should have been taken years ago), adding precision rocket firepower will bring greater effectiveness. Today the IDF uses the U.S.'s Multiple Launched Rocket System (MLRS), loaded mostly with Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions designed for suppressive firepower against area targets at long ranges. When Israel fielded MLRS, an enhancement system was developed to reduce the dispersion of the rockets, using the Trajectory Correction System (TCS), developed by Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Elisra.
In the low-intensity and asymmetric warfare that the IDF has engaged in over the last decade, the accuracy of statistical fire was often inadequate, causing collateral damage and subsequent foreign relations headaches for Israel. This led the IDF to limit the use of artillery fire, reducing support and increasing the risk to its combat units. Recently, Israel Military Industries introduced the trajectory-corrected Accular 160-mm rocket capable of hitting targets at up to 40 km with a circular error point (CEP) of less than 10 meters (33 ft.). Accular uses a GPS system and two stacks of thrusters to shape the rocket's ballistic trajectory. Impressed with the results, the IDF is set to order the first battalion by year-end, hoping the new capability will regain the artillery corps' capability to employ fires in anti-terror missions in complex terrain and urban targets.
While precision rockets are fielded with the artillery brigades, IDF battalions are being equipped with the M113-mounted Keshet self-propelled mortar system, providing “pocket artillery” for the armored battalion. A lighter system designed to support the infantry battalions is the new Spear 120-mm autonomous, soft-recoil mortar system developed by Elbit's Soltam subsidiary. The company has already tested the system on a modified Humvee. These self-propelled mortars use a special recoil system, reducing the barrel firing load, typically 120 tons, to less than 10 tons, so that a relatively light chassis can sustain the firing jolt. As a result, Spear can sustain a high rate of fire of up to 15 rounds per minute, and deliver accurate fire with a 30-meter CEP.
Additional improvements are being introduced in the target acquisition levels with the EL/M-2448 Multimission Radar (Raz) system, replacing the AN/TPS-37 artillery locating radar. The new system, developed by' Elta Systems subsidiary, greatly improves the speed, accuracy and multiple-target handling capability, as well as early warning.