Air force chief lauds 400% firepower increase in 2 years

Amir Eshel says planes can strike in 24 hours the same number of targets hit throughout 34-day Second Lebanon War in 2006

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (photo credit: Sivan Farraj)
Israeli Air Force commander Amir Eshel (photo credit: Sivan Farraj)

The commander of the Israeli Air Force on Wednesday described a top-to-bottom change that has led to a 400 percent increase in the IAF’s firepower over the past two years, drastically shortening the time it would take Israel to win a future war.

“Quantitatively, not qualitatively, the air force is capable of striking in less than 24 hours what once took 33 days to hit,” Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said, referencing the 34-day war against Hezbollah in 2006. And the qualitative increase, he said, was far greater.

The week-long campaign against Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza in November 2012, he added, “would [today] take less than 12 hours.”

Speaking of Hezbollah, he said that the damage Israel was capable of inflicting on the Shiite Lebanon-based organization, in terms of its military infrastructure, “would take decades to restore. Not one year, not two years and… in scope that is beyond understanding.”

The comments came amid budget battles that according to a senior defense official constitute a “war” being waged by the Finance Ministry against the Defense Ministry.

The official said Wednesday that the David’s Sling missile defense system, meant to counter the mid-range threat posed by Hezbollah’s 100,000-rocket arsenal, “will not become operational in 2015” simply because the air force did not have the funds to build the launchers and other necessary infrastructure.

The David’s Sling -- a new mid- to long-range missile interceptor -- successfully shot down a rocket in its first test on Sunday (photo courtesy of Defense Ministry)
The David’s Sling — a new mid- to long-range missile interceptor — successfully shot down a rocket in its first test on Sunday (photo courtesy of Defense Ministry)

He added that if at least part of the dispute over the 2014 budget was not resolved by June 1, the IAF would have to stop its weekly flight training for reserves pilots, a measure he described as particularly grave.

The IAF’s emphasis on precise munitions and timely intelligence, often acquired from space-based systems, are part of a larger shift in the IDF toward firepower rather than boots or treads on the ground. Eshel left unsaid the obvious monetary costs of such a shift.

Calling Israel’s active missile and rocket defense systems “strategic rather than tactical,” he warned that in a war with Hezbollah, Israel would be able to protect its national resources and its civilian centers but not all civilians. “The protection is effective but not hermetic,” he said.

A future war will end with Hezbollah “firing the final salvo,” he said, but the organization will have to explain to its followers and the people of Lebanon why it chose to trigger such devastation.

The increasingly precise missile threat from the north, Eshel said, would hit IAF bases and hobble its operational capabilities, but would not stop its offensive capacities. “Those who say the air force will be paralyzed – that’s not a professional assertion.”

Calling the current period, in which Israel does not face any foreseeable conventional military threat, “the age of fire [power], Eshel said, “We do not have the luxury of a month-long war.”

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