Close air support – air force or ground forces? Signs of change

Since I wrote about this debate some time ago, something has changed. It’s not the end of the debate, but at last things are finally happening.

Brig Gen Sami Turjeman , commander of the Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) ground forces said on 23 May that his units will soon be equipped with long-range accurate rockets.

This announcement brought a flood of criticism from the Israeli air force (IAF). The equation is simple – if ground forces get the tools for close ground support fire, the air force will not get it.

The role of the IAF in suppressing rocket and shell fire into Israel has been evaluated extensively in recent years.

Traditionally, the IAF is in charge of suppressing any fire aimed from neighboring countries against civilian and military targets inside Israel.

The development of precise, low-cost rockets by Israeli companies  put the issue on the table some years ago, but opposition from the IAF resulted in the current situation. The opposition was based on the concern that a change will decrease the IAF’s procurement budgets.

Until a few years ago the only precise rocket available to the IDF was the upgraded, trajectory-corrected multi launch rocket system, with a range of 24nm (45km).

Israel Military Industries (IMI) decided to change this situation and offer very accurate, low-cost solutions.

The IMI concept is based on the company’s extended-range artillery rockets like the Extra, which was jointly developed with Israel Aerospace Industries.

The trajectory-corrected long-range rocket is aimed at replacing aircraft missions at a range of up to 81nm.

The Extra – which is actually a guided missile – has a range of over 81nm. It will replace air-ground weapons in medium- and long-range strikes.

The Extra is 3.9m (12.8ft) long and a diameter of 30cm. The total weight of the rocket is 430kg – including a 120kg warhead.

As part of the new concept, IMI has developed a launcher that can be used to launch different types of precise rockets.

And there are other tools for the proposed close support. One is the Rafael Spike-NLOS, with a range of 13nm.

There are further signs of change – the IDF’s artillery corps are operating two types of unmanned air systems (UAS) that are dedicated to their missions. The fact that the IAF lost its total exclusivity in operating UAS is without doubt a sign of change.

So, the tools are handy and proven and all the signs point to procurement by the IDF’s ground forces. Will the IAF sit tight? I doubt it.

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