Questions from NEWSru.co.il were answered by the commander of Israeli artillery Roy Riftin. 46-year-old brigadier general with a law degree, admits that he did not think about the military career, and in this branch of the army came by accident.
Our interlocutor, having begun his service as a private soldier, went through all the steps, commanded the northern artillery brigade during the Second Lebanon War, then served in the General Staff, and then served as head of the planning department of the ground forces command.
What are the challenges facing the IDF artillery at the beginning of the XXI century?
There are a lot of them. First of all, this is the development of human potential, both recruits and officers. We do not particularly attract attention to ourselves, we are limited in self-advertisement, and after leaving Lebanon this problem worsened. We do a lot, but it remains invisible, including by virtue of secrecy.
In 80-90, we woke up in the morning, fired several projectiles at targets in Lebanon, hit the headlines, and were happy with life. Now every projectile fired is a whole история. The recent return shelling of Lebanese territory was an example of the complex world in which we live.
When in Syria applied chemical weapon, then artillery units from different parts of the country were pulled to the northern border. This means that the gunners live in the dual world: on the one hand, they do the same work as the infantry, on the other - for a short time they must be ready to use their guns and missiles.
Among the tasks facing the IDF there are those that only artillery can solve. As for the Syrian front, we must respond with utmost precision to the shelling of Israeli territory. Even on occasional shelling, which in fact does not always turn out to be "random", it is necessary to respond. Responsibility for this is borne, first of all, by our observers and fire coordinators.
In Gaza, artillery is also responsible for opening fire The fact that practically only artillerymen serve at the command posts responsible for the "fire" allows you to fully utilize the potential. Our officers will involve both the Air Force and other types of troops.
Artillery is now used very rarely on the Lebanese border. But both in the north and in the Gaza Strip area, and in Eilat, gunners serve multipurpose radar installations. We transmit data on the shelling of the warning systems of the civilian population, and those who should "deal" with the shooters. In the last year, this has been done by a specially created division for finding targets.
Another task artillery - the use of small UAVs. We started this two years ago, and the importance of UAVs is growing all the time. At the level of the "battalion brigade" created a whole system of small UAV "Heavenly rider." The demand for these aircraft is huge. On each front there are calculations that are constantly involved.
If we take one plane from someone, in a minute I’m already cutting off the phone. "Sky Rider" is reminiscent of a model airplane, it is launched like a slingshot. In fact, this is the pinnacle of military technology, which, despite the spread of UAVs around the world, has no world analogues.
How will artillery develop in the foreseeable future?
If you look to the future, I want to remind you of the human factor again. To use these technologies, we need capable people. Of course, most will have to use guns, which requires, rather, physical, rather than intelligent data. But the intellect is necessary for the artilleryman.
We are also looking for people with high motivation. First and foremost, we must educate commanders with operational horizons. We teach battery commanders to think in brigade scale. In war they will have to do it, which requires special qualities.
As regards the development of the military branch, we are aware that the world and the tasks before us have changed. We have the means to deal with the masses tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantrymen. But the main threat does not come from them. The enemy is invisible, he appears for a short period and disappears again. Our task is to provide him with a meeting with things that explode. The task is not simple and interesting.
In your opinion, are you developing a new artillery doctrine or are you bringing the old one into line with the requirements of time?
In my opinion, I rather bring it in line with new realities. In the past, artillery had the task to more or less accurately bring down to the enemy a mass of fire. Now accuracy is central. If earlier we fired rocket attacks on the squares, now the same installations launch missiles that, with a range of 35, have an accuracy of up to five meters and are capable of destroying what is needed.
Another important aspect is cheapness, because we need a significant number of missiles. With a large saturation of fire weapons, I can attach volley fire units to divisions, not districts, as it was before. This shortens the reaction time. The platoon, seeing the threat, can request artillery support - and immediately get it. Within five minutes, a missile is launched at the designated target.
One of the main lessons of the Second Lebanon War is that, although we rely on the “long arm” of the Israeli air force, ground forces need their own fire support, which can level the two-story house and crush the center of resistance.
Accuracy is now needed and projectiles. We began to equip them with satellite guidance systems that provide accuracy up to five meters. After all, when the enemy appears and disappears, I must destroy him with one shot. No second chance, missed - missed. Tests of these munitions should be completed in the 2015 year, and in 2016 projectile will go into service.
As far as I know, this is not a unique development.
Similar systems exist in other armies, but none of them reaches such accuracy as ours. We strive for accuracy to be even less than five meters, and this is a very difficult task. But the work is progressing well, and this is encouraging.
The IDF still uses artillery systems developed by 30-40 years ago, and you talk to me about developments that can be called futuristic. Is this a contradiction?
Our task is to integrate computerized fire control systems with the hard physical work of artillery crews, so that at the right moment to launch the projectile that is needed, for the purpose that is necessary. Much of the tactical work is performed at the battalion level, the artillery officers assigned to the battalions are responsible for it. Previously, they were engaged only in coordinating cannon artillery, now this is not enough. To use our full potential, coordination calculations of several people are required.
We want to combine the firepower of the ground forces and the Air Force at the battalion level, but for this we need a more serious coordination mechanism, with personnel who can use artillery, and Aviation. People are trained on special simulators, which can significantly reduce financial costs, as well as set the most difficult tasks during the training of officers. Then in combat conditions they will know what to do - this will be brought to automaticity.
With all the importance of artillery systems, it is much more important what they shoot and where they fall. Say, the M-270 rocket launcher on the Bradley chassis, which debuted during the company "Desert Storm," still does the job, and you should not write it off. We will improve it a bit, install the latest missiles - and everything perfectly goes where it should be.
As for the guns - this is a painful question. Towed artillery, we will soon withdraw gradually from the staffing, we say M-71 "goodbye." This is a reliable, accurate artillery system of Israeli origin, which is in service with other countries. We are proud of her, but her time has passed.
Our main gun - M-109 since the Vietnam War. In my opinion, and her time is running out. We are now deciding which system will replace it. Priority - more firepower, but fewer guns. Modern technology allows self-charging rapid-fire installations to conduct intense, accurate and long-range fire. If the current guns require an 10 man of calculation, then a new one needs four. Artillery is becoming more economical and more efficient.
Caliber will remain the same?
Yes, it will be a gun with a caliber 155 mm, with a barrel length 52 caliber, fully automated, integrated with the CALR system - "computerized ground forces". The range will be 35 kilometers. This will use conventional ammunition. This will reduce the number of artillery without reducing its effectiveness.
Here I am talking about the long term. Even if we finish the development in the next couple of years, it will take about twenty years to replace the entire artillery park. But the IDF is aware of the need for this measure. Such guns, located outside the battlefield and firing accurate ammunition, do not have to move a lot. They will be integrated into the communications network. This will make full use of our potential on the battlefield.
In May we are holding the third international conference on firepower. Its main theme will be the use of networks for fire control in a changing environment. After all, the task is to combine the potential of modern electronic communications with the traditional ballistic characteristics of artillery systems.
The conference will be attended by representatives of the armed forces of various countries, defense enterprises and academia. Our partners have a great interest in the conference. This applies to the western world and eastern countries. In the past, her work was very successful, because participants exchange experiences both in combat and in training.
In the Russian tradition, artillery is called the "God of War." Its commanders often wore epaulets with marshal stars. Your rank is a brigadier general. Does this indicate the place of artillery in the IDF combat schedule?
Firepower occupies a central place in the Israeli military doctrine. If you look at the training of the armed forces, you see how much resources are allocated for this. As for the question of my rank - we are a young army. But I want to remind you that two representatives of artillery occupied high positions in the General Staff, and Dan Arel was the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. So everything is fine.
A few months ago, Defense Minister Moshe ("The Gods") Ya'alon declared that the era of battles, similar to those of the Doomsday War, had come to an end. As far as this revolution in military affairs touched artillery?
A significant part of our combat schedule is reservists, who were trained for what can be defined as "wars of the past." So really, both mentally and from the point of view of the material part, these units are more suitable for them. We have to spend a lot of energy in order to bring spare parts in line with new realities.
I am convinced that we should not forget about our traditional role in the conventional conflict. The world around us is constantly changing in the most radical way, so you need to prepare for traditional military operations, not to lose the accumulated experience, which, moreover, will be difficult to restore.
Although, along with missiles and projectiles, we have both UAVs and other technological means, I believe that the most difficult task of artillery is the fire support of units operating on the battlefield. And if the coordinators of the fire can cope with this task, they will be on the shoulder and control of an artillery system that inflicts a point strike on targets more typical for conflicts of a new type.
Artillery plays the role of an important deterrent. When we hear in the newsthat the IDF responded with artillery fire, this usually means that the confrontation has reached a new level. How do you balance the fine line between the battlefield and politics?
Indeed, artillery will be used not only to destroy the enemy, but also to demonstrate that it is better not to touch us. A show of strength is when you let your opponent know that you are serious. It should be borne in mind that the enemy is firing from populated areas, and we cannot use the mass of fire as a deterrent. We have to look for other ways.
Israel maintains neutrality in the civil war in Syria, but at the same time, the IDF artillery has to open fire on Syrian territory. Cannons also respond to rocket attacks from Lebanese territory. To what extent does this duality affect the deployment of forces?
We open fire only on positions from which Israeli territory was fired, fully aware of the complexity of the situation. Our goal is very limited - to suppress the firing point. We must not allow such an incident to escalate into a serious conflict.
How do guns, volley fire systems and UAVs function under the same roof? Why did systems like the Sky Rider appear to be under artillery?
The main reason is that we are able to use a variety of weapons systems. But the example of the IDF was contagious - now other countries are emulating us. Artillery is constantly striving to minimize response time to a request for fire support. To do this, you need to collect everything under the same roof, so that those who are observing, and those who shoot, speak the same language. The Heavenly Horseman, whose initial task is to monitor the situation on the battlefield in real time and transfer data to the battalion commander, is now also used to coordinate the fire.
It also allows you to find out what is happening "on the opposite slope of the hill", in the "dead zones", which turn out to be especially significant during the battles in the village. The surface of the earth is not the best place to observe the battlefield. UAVs allow you to conduct effective fire on the second and third line of houses. And when artillerymen studying the same courses are engaged in everything, everything proceeds much more smoothly. So when we took on this project, we didn’t even fully realize what opportunities it provides.
For the same reason, we are so effectively using radar installations - everyone speaks the same, "artillery" language, uses our communication system. This greatly simplifies the process.
You paint a picture of a super-modern kind of military, but among conscripts, he is not particularly popular. You yourself admitted that you fell into the artillery by chance. How do you solve the problem of motivation?
Even those who did not aspire to artillery, being here, come to the conclusion that they were lucky that this is an excellent duty station. Our task as commanders is to convince them of this. Indeed, we do not make up faces with protective colors, we are not shown on TV or in newspapers. But when you get into the course of a young fighter in “Shivta”, you see who your colleagues are, you study modern, interesting equipment, you realize what an important role you have to play on the battlefield. And we must pay tribute to the management of personnel, which sends to us recruits with the necessary intellectual level. And I take the motivation. The fact that we have a big competition for officer positions.
Separately, it is worth noting that girls also serve here. We are constantly trying to open up new opportunities for them, many of them become officers. In one of the battalions of volley fire in six months there will be three combatants - women. It happened by chance, not because we were striving for it. Appointment received the best.
Probably the most tragic episode in the history of the IDF artillery was the shelling of Kafr Kana during Operation Grapes of Wrath. Then more than 100 people died. Are you learning this experience?
Of course, this is unacceptable. Lessons were learned from this case, one of which is the need for the coordination of fire as accurate as possible and shooting as accurate as possible. This is especially important when military operations are conducted in an area where there are settlements, civilians. We are doing everything possible so that this does not happen again, but unfortunately I cannot guarantee this.