Infantry: Speeding Towards Success

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April 28, 2011: Since the 2006 war in Lebanon, Israel has implemented many military reforms. One of the less noted areas of change is what happened to the infantry. Lots of little things, that all contributed to making the infantry faster, both for moving, planning and fighting. This process starts close to the skin, with new uniforms that are more comfortable in hot weather. Israel had been noting all this kind of stuff being developed for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was pretty easy to pick the most suitable items and issue them to Israeli troops. Next to the uniform there's a new, lighter, protective vest, designed to more comfortably hang all the weapons and gear infantry normally have hanging off them. An Israeli army supplier also came up with an ingenious way to cope with the enormous weights of gear infantry troops sometimes have to carry. It's a frame that can go on the back, but if its carrying a lot of weight (up to 80 kg/176 pounds), you take it off, snap into position a rugged wheel, and then pull the frame and load behind you. This requires a lot less effort than having it on your back.

There are also new weapons, like the 8.6mm HTR 2000 sniper rifle (effective at over 1,000 meters), the Negev Commando light machine-gun and Matador shoulder fired anti-structure rocket. There are new communications and navigation devices. Other changes are simpler. For example, the infantry can now carry small explosives, for blowing open doors, or through walls. Formerly, only the combat engineers could use this stuff. But there is also something else that's new, the way of thinking of these light infantry operations against foes like Hamas and Hezbollah. No army in the region wants to take on the Israeli army, but these Islamic radical groups are all pumped up and think they have a chance.

Because of all these reforms, Israeli military commanders are anxious to go back into Gaza, feeling that they have new tactics and equipment that enable them to tear Hamas apart without losing many troops. During the 22 day campaign in 2008-9, the Israelis only suffered four dead from fighting Hamas (plus ten friendly fire fatalities). Meanwhile, Hamas lost over 500 of their fighters. There is a sense of urgency to get back in, because Hamas is working on techniques to nullify the Israeli tactics. The more time Hamas has, the more useful ideas they will come up with to increase Israeli losses, and reduce their own.

The Israelis learned much from the U.S. experience in Iraq. American and Israeli commanders have long exchanged ideas, and the U.S. depended a lot on Israeli tactics developed during over a decade of battling Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza. But the Americans saw a lot more combat in Iraq, and developed techniques that the Israelis borrowed.

The main American innovation was the ability to deliver a lot of precision firepower fast. To do this, U.S. troops used precision missiles (like Hellfire, Javelin and TOW), along with smart bombs delivered quickly. Israel now uses a lot more of its Spike family of infantry missiles, fired from launchers on the ground, in helicopters, and on ships. Because of its higher speed, Israel continues to use Hellfires (not Spike) on its helicopters, and not from UAVs, which the United States favors. Like the United States, Israel attached air controllers to infantry units, so that F-16s overhead could quickly drop a smart bomb when needed, often in less than a minute.

The new Israeli combat tactics in Gaza were a great success, and have since been further refined. The war in Gaza saw three brigades sent in, with over a hundred jet fighters, helicopters and UAVs overhead. The helicopters and UAVs were attached directly to the brigades, so the ground commanders could quickly assign "their" aircraft where and when they were needed the most. This meant that ground commanders had a constant overhead view of the battlefield.

Another American innovation the Israelis adopted was the use of small ground robots. These proved very useful in discovering, and sometimes disabling the many booby traps and bombs Hamas had placed throughout residential areas, hoping to entangle Israeli infantry. This didn't happen, as the Israelis were able to move through these areas without incurring many casualties, and killing a lot of Hamas gunmen who tried to stay and fight.

The Israelis suffered over a hundred wounded, and adopted many of the American medical innovations used so successfully developed in Iraq. This included rapid treatment and evacuation of casualties, and the use of new medical devices like the clotting powder that prevented badly wounded troops from bleeding to death, or going into shock.

But the main weapon was speed. The Israeli troops were trained, under realistic conditions, before they went in. They developed combat drills that used the UAVs, robots, armored vehicles and missile weapons to outmaneuver and promptly attack Hamas fighters before the enemy could react. Speed kills, and the Israeli infantry have been retrained, reorganized and reequipped since 2006 to get more speed.

 


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