The Gaza campaign -- battle innovationsIsrael uses new ISR systems, ordnance

Published 5 January 2009

Advocates of air power were humbled in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, but they hope to be vindicated in the Israel-Hamas conflict; Israel uses new ISR systems which shrink the sensor-to-shooter loop, and new bunker-busting ordnance

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. DefenseNews reports that advocates of air power, humbled during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, hope that the current Israeli campaign in Gaza, which has ground components but which is carried out mainly from the air, would yet vindicate them.

The Israeli air assault began 27 December after weeks of rocket attacks by Hamas on Israeli towns. The Israeli Air Force is using new ISR systems and better joint and service planning to shrink the sensor-to-shooter loop.

DefenseNews quotes Israeli sources to say that societal staying power will prove decisive in an urban war against an extreme Islamist regime. These sources say that air power and supporting naval strikes offer the best chance of breaking Hamas’s will to fight, while denying them the morale-boosting possibilities of blown-up Merkava tanks and Israeli prisoners of war. “There are certain situations in which the aerial war can bring about change, and my personal view is that this is one of those cases,” one IDF officer told DefeneNews four days ago. Continuous surveillance, targeting, and attack operations are diluting enemy weapon stocks and preventing them from rearming. “We’re in this for the long haul, and we’ll continue aggressively yet cautiously until the enemy runs out of either weapons or the will to fight us.”

The campaign so far

DefenseNews summarized the campaign thus far (these figures are through 2 January):

  • Israel has destroyed more than 500 targets [editor’s note: the number has risen to 1,000 by mid-day Monday], including about 100 tunnels, one-third of the underground passages built by Hamas and other militant groups to smuggle and store rockets, weaponry and other supplies.
  • Since the air strikes began 27 December, the Israel Air Force has flown 555 fighter sorties, 125 helicopter missions, and hundreds of UAV flight hours. Those figures include the initial surprise attack, in which 88 aircraft simultaneously struck 100 preplanned targets within a record span of 220 seconds.
  • The Israel Air Force is claiming a 95 percent success rate on that opening attack on Hamas training bases, weapon depots, the presidential compound and headquarters of Hamas police and security forces.
  • In the first week following the opening attack, Israel repeatedly demonstrated its ability to act on intelligence well within one minute, sources here say. In many cases, where hovering aircraft identified preplanned targets and were awaiting authorization to kill, the cycle was shaved to the time it took for missiles to hit the ground. “When pilots are actually waiting for authorization to push the pickle, the loop may be just a matter of seconds,” an IDF officer said. “Depending on what targets are involved, what munitions are used, and the elevation, it could take 15 seconds for the missile to arrive.”
  • Israeli defense and industry sources said the Israel Air Force made unprecedented, coordinated use of the one-ton Mk84 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) to attack buildings and tunnels along the Gaza-Sinai border, as well as dropping the 500-pound variant against underground bunkers. Other gear making its combat debut or seeing expanded use include synthetic aperture radar targeting pods; vertical, high-resolution aerial imaging pods; Shoval UAVs; and a range of laser-guided bombs and missiles.
  • Sources also attributed air power successes thus far to intimate knowledge of the Gaza Strip; meticulous planning; and new procedures for gathering, processing, and disseminating expanded sources of intelligence. “The real story is intelligence gathering and fusion,” a senior defense official said. He refused to elaborate for security reasons.
  • For the first time, for example, Israel’s Shin Bet Security Service was part and parcel of operational planning, execution, and after-action assessments, sources here say. This alone allowed Israel to start the war with a list of more than 400 targets, which were dispatched within four days and continually replenished (in comparison, Israel started the 2006 Lebanon War with only about 150 preplanned targets, required about ten days to destroy them all, and found it difficult to find more, Israeli defense analyst Amir Rappaport told DefenseNews).
  • Most of the 555 deaths so far have been armed fighters and others associated with the Hamas regime, but Israel acknowledges that unintended killings of innocents are unavoidable because Gaza is among the most densely populated areas in the world. Even more importantly, Hamas has built its war-fighting strategy around the use of human shields, with arms caches stored in or under mosques, hospitals, schools, and other targets formerly considered off-limits by the IDF.
  • In this war, being led by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israel strikes all targets associated with Hamas, thus increasing the number of civilian dead and wounded. In an effort to minimize death and injury to civilians, the Air Force dropped more than 400,000 leaflets since the beginning of hostilities warning people of pending attacks. Additionally, the Shin Bet security service typically telephones residents of specific buildings and apartment blocks, giving them up to fifteen minutes to leave the area.