IDF looks to a ‘one-network’ army to fight future wars

Lessons learned from Second Lebanon War push Israel to increase collaboration between its military branches

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Soldiers of the IDF's signal (C41) corps (Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Soldiers of the IDF's signal (C41) corps (Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

As Israel marks a decade since the Second Lebanon War, the army has used the past 10 years to take stock of lessons learned from the conflict.

One of the key changes has been to make a technological push to increase collaboration between the Israel Defense Forces’ various military arms so that the air and ground forces, the navy and intelligence corps can join efforts on the battlefield based on real-time information they receive

“Today, instead of the army adding budgets for more units or planes or ships, the push it so invest in better connecting the existing forces and increase their effectiveness through collaborative activities,” said Yariv Nir, head of the army’s operations department in the signal (C41) corps, in an interview with The Times of Israel.

In 2006, the IDF encountered a significantly tougher enemy in Lebanon’s Hezbollah than it had faced in its skirmishes with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, armed with guns and improvised explosives. Over the course of the 34-day war, 121 Israeli soldiers fell to the Shiite group’s anti-tank missiles, mines, rockets, and machine gun fire.

Soldiers evacuating a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (photo credit: Haim Azoulay/ Flash 90)
Soldiers evacuating a wounded comrade during the Second Lebanon War, on July 24, 2006 (Haim Azoulay/Flash 90)

Some 44 Israeli civilians were also killed during the course of the conflict from the near-constant barrage of missiles that rained down on northern cities. In Lebanon, nearly 1,200 people died, though the civilian-to-combatant ratio remains highly contested. Israel says that more than half of those killed were combatants, while Hezbollah claims just 250 fighters died in the war.

The conflict began on July 12, 2006, when two Israeli soldiers — Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser — were kidnapped by Hezbollah gunmen near Zar’it along the northern border and smuggled back to Lebanon.

Lack of communication

Investigations into the unfolding of the events revealed that there had been command failures during the war, with soldiers unprepared for the new kind of warfare and terrain they were facing. They also highlighted an acute lack of communication that existed between the various military forces, Nir said.

One of the more glaring examples of these communication failures occurred on the first day of the war, following the kidnapping of Regev and Goldwasser. In a 2009 tell-all book, Brig. Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch, who led the Northern Command’s 91st Division during the conflict, details how crucial intelligence ahead of the kidnapping did not reach him or his soldiers on the ground until weeks later.

The army is addressing these issues, Nir said, ensuring relevant training is given to all soldiers at all levels and increasing the level of communication between the branches.

Yariv Nir, the head of operations department in the signal (C41) corps of the Israel Defense Forces (Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Yariv Nir, the head of operations department in the signal (C41) corps of the Israel Defense Forces (Courtesy: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

For the past three years the Signal (C41) Corps has been implementing a plan called the Network Centric IDF Program (NCIP), which will create a “one-networked army” based on a joint communications platform for all the various arms of the military.

“The idea is to create a network on which all the forces operate together – to allow the pilots, the tank commanders, the ships and the soldiers on the ground to speak on one network and be on the same page at the same time,” Nir said.

The joint network already works like this: if commanders on the ground identify terrorists in a house, they can pinpoint the location on a laptop screen, and signal in real time to a nearby plane or ship the location of their target.

“The aim is to deepen this kind of networked operations,” Nir said.

Still today each base and the general staff receive separate inputs from the air force, intelligence, land forces and navy. Each of these arms have their own communications fiber with their own routers and encryption systems.

“The aim of the ‘one-network army’ is to have one fiber on which everyone works, one computer for all. Access will be allowed to all those who are eligible,” Nir said. “This will enable greater resources efficiency, but also greater operational efficiency. We have started implementing this process in the past year.”

Making the move down south

The army’s decision to move many of its bases to the Negev, with tens of thousands of soldiers relocating to the wide open spaces down south, was a key catalyzer in making a networked army much more of a reality, Nir said.

“We are taking advantage of this move to build new technologies that support this plan. We are setting up a new telecoms infrastructure, developing new virtual and cloud technologies, increasing our data centers. All this will enable us to be a joint force with joined platforms.” The ability to share video, voice and data, will be central to the army’s technological push, he said.

Operation Protective Edge, fought against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in 2014, was in effect the first networked war in the world and one in which the IDF operated with some of the new joint-network systems in place, Nir said. “That operation very much strengthened the concept of a one-network army, proving that we are going in the right direction.”

In an age of greater digitalization and just one network, the threat of cyber-security attacks is high, Nir said. Securing the network will be a significant challenge in the coming years, and the IDF has to make sure that it maintains the security of its data even as it makes the most of the potential of the joint network.

The main challenges ahead, according to Nir, are to learn from past mistakes and make sure the soldiers and forces are trained to meet the tasks they will be facing in the future and to ensure the security and continuity of the network operations, he said.

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