Date: 23/03/2009, 8:00 PM Author: Arnon Ben-Dror
The Israel Air Force has expressed its satisfaction with its operations during Operation Cast Lead, after the completion of an internal evaluation of the operation in the last few days. The data compiled by the IAF determined that 99 percent of aerial attacks hit their target precisely. The evaluation also showed that 80 percent of the bombs and missiles used by the IAF were precision munitions which significantly decrease the chance of hitting uninvolved civilians. During the second Lebanon war only 36 percent of the munitions used were precision munitions.
In addition, for the first time during an IDF (Zahal) operation of this scale, no IDF (Zahal) ground forces were injured by the IAF, despite the fact that more than 2000 bombs and missiles were fired close to ground forces and in a dense and complex urban territory.
The IAF was also pleased with its ability to minimize the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israeli territory, by destroying weaponry launchers and storage facilities. Throughout the operation 650 rockets were fired onto Israeli territory, killing three Israelis, injuring hundreds and causing significant damage to property. However, at the start of the operation the IDF (Zahal) had estimated that the Hamas would be able to fire a much larger number.
Another outstanding aspect of the operation was the close cooperation between the IAF and the ground forces during the operation, especially with regard to the use of UAVs. Each brigade was constantly accompanied by a number of UAVs, flying at a lower altitude than fighter jets. The main function of the UAVs was to collect information, to direct the ground forces and to direct IAF aircraft to attack targets that were designated by the ground forces.
Prior to Operation Cast Lead, a UAV squadron was assigned to each brigade, and they operated together throughout the operation. The members of the squadron met with the Armored Corps and Infantry Corps brigades, became familiar with the soldiers and officers with whom they would work personally, and helped in the planning of the ground maneuvers.
During the operation, representatives of the UAV squadrons were located in the Brigade forward command posts and in the surveillance outposts on the battlefield itself. This facilitated the contact between the UAVs, which are operated by two operators located in Israel, and the ground forces. Sometimes a UAV was even assigned to a specific company and in rare cases to a squad.
The changes made by the IDF (Zahal) and the IAF with regard to the increased co-operation between aerial and the ground forces were reflected in the new combat orders implemented during Operation Cast Lead. For the first time aircraft were controlled by the brigade commanders in their area of operation. The final permission for every aerial attack was given by the brigade commander or his representative. “The IAF is now much more open to cooperating with the ground forces, and we saw the results during the operation in the Gaza Strip,” says Major K. from the Military Cooperation Unit, which works to enhance the cooperation between the ground forces and the IAF.
Despite the successes, the IAF realizes that not all of the methods used in Gaza, during an operation of limited size and scale, would translate to a war of larger dimensions. In a large scale war, explain senior IAF commanders, it will be impossible to assign a personal aircraft soldier to each force, and IAF squadrons will not be able to operate exclusively with one force or another, but will have to move between the forces.
Another conclusion drawn from the IAF evaluation, is that in light of the increase in the range of rockets missiles fired by Hamas and the Hezbollah, as well as those possessed by enemy States, IAF bases and the personnel operating them have to learn to work efficiently under fire. Accordingly, IAF commanders of all ranks will be trained to operate during missile fire, protective measures for relevant bases will be enhanced and their personnel trained to deal with missile attacks.
In the meantime, the Iron Dome System, which is meant to offer a solution to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, is being developed. The IAF estimates that the first system will be tested by the IAF in another four months, and hopes that the system will become operational in 2010. The IDF (Zahal) also intends to purchase F-35 aircraft from the USA. These aircraft, known as “Fifth Generation combat aircraft”, are considered to be among the most technologically advanced aircraft in the world, and will contribute greatly to Israel’s security.