In 1st drill, IDF’s Ghost Unit tests out new tactics with jets, tanks and robots
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In 1st drill, IDF’s Ghost Unit tests out new tactics with jets, tanks and robots

Innovative detachment was created as part of military’s multiyear plan; is meant to come up with and try out new fighting techniques

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, right, speaks to soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit as they take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, right, speaks to soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit as they take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Tanks from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Tanks from the IDF's Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, speaks to soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit as they take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, speaks to soldiers from the IDF's Ghost Unit as they take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces new multidisciplinary Ghost Unit completed its first major exercise on Thursday, testing a variety of new fighting techniques including a method of having ground troops identify targets for fighter jets, the military said.

The Ghost Unit was created earlier this year as part of the IDF’s multiyear Momentum Plan and is meant to develop and test new combat tactics. Unlike more homogeneous combat units in the IDF, the Ghost Unit is made up of a wide range of capabilities from various branches of the military: infantry troops, fighter jets, attack helicopters, tanks, combat engineering, drones, K-9s and robotics.

Over the past few weeks, the unit held its first major exercise. The recently formed detachment is specifically tasked with improving the IDF’s ability to quickly find and destroy enemy targets and fighters, as part of a general understanding in the military that regardless of the outcome, any conflict that drags on for too long will be considered a loss.

“This drill represents a significant milestone in the process of making the unit operational and demonstrates advancement in the development of innovative capabilities and fighting techniques, along with the integration of ground forces, air power, intelligence and telecommunications,” said Brig. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the 98th Paratroopers Division, which contains the Ghost Unit.

Soldiers and a K-9 from the IDF’s Ghost Unit take part in a weeks-long training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We will continue to learn, to change, to improve, to strengthen the preparedness of ground troops for the next war,” he said.

During the exercise, the unit tested out a number of new “breakthrough capabilities that were developed in collaboration with a number of defense contractors,” as well as several “innovative” fighting techniques that brought together disparate capabilities into one effort.

“These techniques were developed with the unit and within various branches and arrays in the IDF, including the Air Force, Military Intelligence units, Teleprocessing and Cyber Defense Directorate, and other artillery units,” the military said.

This included widespread operation of new technologies, such as small drones and remote-controlled armed robots, as well as less conventional uses of more standard military equipment like tanks, fighter jets and helicopters.

“During a visit to the exercise by the General Staff, for the first time, targets were attacked with live fire using a new technique developed by the unit, in which targets are struck by a fighter jet that is rapidly directed by troops on the ground,” the IDF said.

Though there is already coordination between IDF infantry troops and the Air Force, it is generally not through direct lines of communication. Rapidly calling in airstrikes is not typically a capability available to most soldiers on the ground. This new technique is meant to make such cooperation easier and more accessible to smaller units.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center, and the rest of the IDF General Staff watch the Ghost Unit during training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The Air Force is a full partner in the unit,” said Brig. Gen. Noam Rif of the IAF. “In the exercise, many officers took part… bringing to bear all the capabilities that the Air Force can provide in urban combat, which the IDF expects to confront in the next war.”

The IDF said additional techniques involving artillery fire, combat engineering and tanks were also tested during the exercise.

“These techniques and capabilities will be implemented throughout the maneuvering brigades [i.e., ground forces] as the multi-year plan continues,” the military said.

The exercise was overseen by the head of the unit, who can only be identified by his rank and first Hebrew letter of his name, Lt. Col. “Ayin,” under the command of Finkelman and the head of the IDF Ground Forces, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick.

“Going forward, a series of additional exercises will be held, where in each one the unit will add operational qualifications to its existing capabilities,” the IDF said.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, center, and the rest of the IDF General Staff watch the Ghost Unit during training exercise in July 2020. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Ghost Unit, which was formed in January, includes ground troops from the Nahal Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, Golani Brigade and Paratroopers Brigade; tanks from the 401st Armored Brigade; troops from the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit; members of the elite K-9 Oketz Unit; F-16 fighter jets from the 109th and 117th Squadrons; Apache helicopters from the 190th Squadron; Heron drones from the 200th squadron; and Hermes 450 drones from the Artillery Corps.

These various ground troops and aircraft work together on a permanent basis, rather than only cooperating for individual exercises and missions.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi’s multi-year Momentum Plan, known in Hebrew as Tenufa, is meant to make the military more lethal, effective and prepared for the types of threats it is expected to face.

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