The Israel Defense Forces this week began in earnest the rollout of its sweeping Momentum Plan, a multifaceted and multiyear effort to restructure and refocus the military for the types of threats it believes it will face in the near future.
Parts of the plan have already been implemented, but the main thrust of it will begin in the coming months and continue for the next five years. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett last month approved the main aspects of the plan, leaving only official confirmation by the security cabinet as its final hurdle.
Over the course of this past week, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi presented the main aspects of the Momentum Plan to the military’s top officers.
“The threats are not waiting for us [to be ready for them],” Kohavi told them. “We are in a singular place in which if we don’t step on the gas hard now, and literally increase the momentum, a gap will develop — not in a month, not in a year, but in the next few years. This will decide how we win.”
The plan, which calls for large-scale acquisitions of new missiles, drones, armored vehicles, air defense batteries, helicopters, and ships alongside the upgrading of existing equipment, will not come cheap, requiring a significant budget increase — which is made yet more difficult by the lack of a fully functioning government.
In the meantime, the IDF will fund the Momentum Plan through its current monthly budget allocation — calculated by taking the 2019 budget and dividing it into 12 equal installments — and the $3.8 billion given to the military by the United States annually as part of a 10-year memorandum of understanding signed by former US president Barack Obama. A NIS 2 billion ($583 million) defense budget increase has also been approved in theory, but has not yet been given to the military.
Until a new government is formed, the gap between the IDF’s current budget and what it needs to fully carry out the Momentum Plan likely will likely not be fully bridged.
The guiding principle of the Momentum Plan, known in Hebrew as Tenufa, is to take full advantage of the areas in which the IDF has superiority over its enemies — air power, intelligence and technology — in order to ensure the Israeli military maintains a constant and significant edge over its foes, notably Iran and Hezbollah.
The military plans to use this superiority to win any future war as quickly as possible, with the understanding that the longer a conflict drags on, the more the result will look like a loss regardless of who is victorious on the battlefield.
To do so, the IDF believes it must significantly improve its ability to identify enemy targets and strike a many as possible as quickly as possible. The military has therefore created intelligence working groups that bring together representatives from different fields — human intelligence, signal intelligence, analysis — to work together to rapidly find such targets.
“What’s the plan based on? On the highly increased ability to discover the enemy, on the highly increased ability to destroy the enemy, on integration that allows us to be very, very effective,” Kohavi said this week.
“Carrying out the multiyear Momentum Plan will allow the IDF to significantly increase its capabilities. The plan will increase the lethality of the IDF… [it] will create conditions to shorten the duration of a war,” he said.
His plan will therefore also involve improving the quality and quantity of equipment and weaponry and making those capabilities available to a larger number of troops through better communication and accessibility.
In the case of technological systems, this will mean literally getting all parts of the IDF speaking the same language.
By bringing all the military’s systems into the same network, infantry troops will have access to drone footage of the areas they’re about to enter, warning them of potential threats, while fighter jets in the sky can be alerted by soldiers on the ground to new targets for them to strike — or at least so the theory goes.
This will be embodied in a computer program that the military refers to as the “Waze of War,” a play on the name of the popular navigation app, which will allow commanders to easily see targets on a map as well as the various methods they could use to strike them — artillery, ground troops, fighter jets, drones, etc.
The plan will also require reorganizing parts of the military to better focus on the threats facing Israel. For instance, Kohavi proposes creating a position on the IDF General Staff that will focus solely on the fight against Iran, bringing together all the various components of that effort under one roof.
The IDF insists that it will press on with the aspects of the plan that are not constrained by budget, regardless of how the funding issues are resolved.
“The multiyear plan is not just a matter of money, not just about projects. It is foremost a calibration for us of our outlook, of our priorities, our organizational orientation, which all of us need to align with this compass,” he said.
“The challenges around us do not allow us to wait — and therefore, despite the complexities, the multiyear plan is underway,” Kohavi said, in a reference to the political instability in the country.
The Momentum Plan is a more expensive successor to the streamlining, cost-cutting Gideon Plan, which guided the IDF over the past five years and drew significant criticism throughout for its treatment — or neglect, in the view of its harshest detractors — of the IDF’s ground forces.
Kohavi’s proposal puts the military’s “maneuvering units” — namely infantry and tanks — at the forefront, while also significantly boosting funding for the Israeli Air Force.
Out with the old, in with the new
The Momentum Plan will see some major structural reorganization within the military.
In addition to the creation of a General Staff position focused on Iran — the details of which have yet to be fully determined — the IDF will be closing one entire armored brigade that operates outdated vehicles and taking out of service a number of aging tanks. Two air squadrons operating older planes will also be replaced with new ones flying more advanced aircraft, though it is not yet clear if these will be F-35s or upgraded F-15s.
In the coming years, the Air Force will also replace its fleet of 51-year-old Sikorsky CH-53 heavy transport helicopters with either Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook or Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K King Stallion. A final decision on which aircraft will be chosen has yet to be made.
The IAF Air Defense Command will also be restructured as a nationwide air defense system is deployed, replacing the current method of having the military’s various batteries scattered across the country and moved to areas where the IDF expects to see rocket fire. With the acquisition of additional batteries and improved interceptor missiles, their deployment will be largely fixed — though some may still need to be moved occasionally to provide better coverage — and their operation will be centralized in one place.
The IDF is considering creating a new tier of its air defense array — currently made up of the short-range Iron Dome, mid-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow systems — to confront the shorter range rockets and mortars that the Iron Dome currently struggles to defend against. It is not yet clear on what technology this system would be based, though the Defense Ministry recently boasted of a breakthrough in the development of anti-rocket lasers.
The military will also create a new combat division, Division 99, which will contain the Kfir Brigade. To start, this unit will be under the command of IDF Ground Forces, but once it is fully formed and operational it will be moved to either the Northern, Southern or Central Command.
As Kohavi announced last month, the Kfir Brigade will be turned into a full “superior” infantry unit in a process that is expected to take at least three years. Until now, the brigade has focused solely on countering Palestinian terrorism, mostly in the West Bank but also in the Gaza Strip. This process, which will begin later this year, will put the Kfir Brigade on par with the military’s other infantry brigades, which are trained to fight on all fronts.
It is expected to start this summer with exercises to prepare them for fighting on Israel’s northern front. In order to fully convert the unit into a “superior” infantry brigade, Kfir will also need to be outfitted with and trained to use anti-tank guided missiles, and it will also require hundreds more soldiers — an enlistment process that is expected to take at least two years.
Eventually, the brigade will need armored personnel carriers, and the military was considering what type and how quickly to acquire them.
Within the Ground Forces — which is responsible for developing combat techniques and training soldiers, not for commanding them in wartime — the IDF will create a new experimental unit known as the “Attack Brigade,” which will incorporate both ground troops and the air force in order to facilitate better-integrated fighting tactics that make use of both ground and aerial assets.
Under the plan, the Ground Forces will also make urban combat training a higher priority for soldiers, as the enemy forces the IDF now expects to fight are generally terror groups operating from within highly populated areas, rather than the standing national militaries of the past.
The Momentum Plan does not deal extensively with the Israeli Navy. One aspect of that branch that is affected, however, is the acquisition over the next three years of four new Sa’ar-6 missile ships, which will be tasked with defending the State of Israel’s nascent natural gas extraction platforms.