The IDF’s Ground Maneuver in the Human Shield Area in Lebanon: Digitization, Intelligence, and Firepower

*”The line of defense” – note that this is a name given by Hezbollah to these areas.

With tensions running high on the Israeli – Lebanese border, as Hezbollah tests Israeli responses and conducts a calculated bet on limited escalations that can easily escalate, some observers assess that the chances of a Third Lebanon War breaking out are higher than they have been for years.

The Second Lebanon War of 2006 began with a decision by Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to initiate a cross-border kidnapping attack that ended up killing five IDF soldiers and sparking a rapid chain reaction that led to an all-out war. The same scenario can repeat itself now, with the main difference being that both sides have increased their military capabilities significantly since their last conflict seventeen years ago.

For Israel, in addition to unparalleled aerial power and intelligence capabilities, this also means that the type of ground maneuvers it can conduct is many times more effective than the ground offensive it launched in 2006.

The IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, will soon be unveiling his multi-year plan, four years after his predecessor, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, unveiled his Momentum program, which contains the DNA that has been guiding how IDF is reshaping its ground forces.

Momentum’s focus is on building a network-based war machine that detects and destroys evasive enemy targets, often in build-up areas, and that capability destruction is the main goal, rather than seizing and holding enemy territory.

In the event that a full-scale war scenario unfolds in the course of an escalation with Hezbollah, and the Iranian-backed terrorist army unleashes thousands of rockets, missiles, and mortar shells per day on the Israeli home front, it is safe to assume that any government in power in Israel would opt for a ground maneuver to extinguish the projectile fire.

So, what kind of ground forces would be entering Lebanon if war were to break out in the near future?

Each battalion of infantry or armored corps, as well as artillery and combat engineering units, would be digitally linked to every other relevant force in its sector, via the Torch 750 battle management system, made by Elbit. Commanders are equipped with tablets or smartphones that link up to software-defined radio, and provide a battlefield picture of all relevant friendly and hostile forces.

Torch 750 saw its first operational debut in Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021 in a major way. Through Torch 750, units will receive the location of enemy positions in real-time, down to the level of the platoon commander, with algorithms automatically allocating the information on a need-by basis.

The platoon commander will have a clear picture not only of enemies and friendly ground forces (other infantry, tanks, reconnaissance units), but also of relevant air force platforms, and naval positions.

All battalion, brigade, and division headquarters are linked up to the same system, and ground forces can instantly communicate with naval, air, and intelligence units. In 2006, ground force company commanders spoke to headquarters or other units through verbal radio messaging, while the era of digitalization has brought the IDF into the smartphone reality– creating an operational advantage. Torch 750 will also enable ground field commanders to access drones and surface robots in the future.

With companies and battalions linked to all relevant forces in their sector, the next question is what kind of intelligence these forces will receive?

In 2021, the IDF established a new ‘back office’ intelligence center, which processes, analyzes, and allocates data to field units in real-time, as the information comes in.

The center uses big data analysis tools and personnel from multiple disciplines, as well as research and analysis personnel, to separate the signal from the noise, and to send the intelligence over the Torch 750 network to brigades and battalions.

A good portion of that intelligence will go to the Artillery Corps, which delivers much of the ground forces firepower. Artillery guns today fire GPS-guided shells from a new automatic artillery gun, as well  guided missiles, while operating drones.

Its goal will be to strike Hezbollah positions that are so well hidden in civilian areas that they will be invisible to the unassisted eye. The linkage forged between the Artillery Corps and the Intelligence Directorate is the way to overcome this challenge, since firepower and accurate intelligence must come together these days in a single package. That means members from both sitting in joint control centers.

On the frontlines, meanwhile, in built-up areas, brigades will form the key tactical units, with brigade headquarters receiving their own intelligence and firepower capabilities, which in the past were only available to divisions.

This essentially means that the IDF ground forces are becoming far more decentralized, so that they are able to engage enemy squads in civilian settings. Urban warfare is the face of war in the Middle East of 2023.

Tanks are today equipped with shells that are designed for such settings, while infantry companies and tank platoons create combined battalions. The battalion commanders can send their own reconnaissance drones, like the Sky Rider to gather their own aerial intelligence.

The IDF has created more K9 and special combat engineering units as well, which, together with the Sky Rider teams, can join battalions on a need-by basis.

This is all part of the “intelligence-based operation” concept pioneered by Kochavi, and for the first time in IDF history, the battalion now have their own headquarters, where personnel analyze intelligence and even ‘activate’ fighter jets – from the battalion level – as field units fight in a village street.

This represents a completely different model of combat compared to the centralized divisions that entered Lebanon in 2006.

The fact that Military Intelligence is always present with ground forces, injecting them with intelligence, is a far cry from sending coordinates over radio voice communications, and today, the air force, the ground forces, the navy, and Military Intelligence have learned to speak a single operational language.

The goal is to provide field commanders with access to the full range of attack and intelligence capabilities, such as relevant satellite data, aerial firepower, and artillery and missile support.

The IDF is testing out its new capabilities during war drills, as it seeks to further transform its ground forces. As it does so, it will also be thinking about the limitations of what a human field officer can process in terms of quantity of data, particularly while in combat.

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Yaakov Lappin

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