Jonathan Pollard
Jonathan PollardPhoto: INN

Of the many lessons learned as a result of the current Russo-Ukrainian War, two of them are relevant for our drive for military self sufficiency. The first involves the reappearance of heavy artillery as a key element in both offensive and defensive operations. The second lesson has to do with the new role battlefield rockets have played in providing combatants with accurate, theater wide strike capabilities. Luckily, we have the manufacturing skills to produce both heavy artillery and battlefield rocket systems. What’s more, I believe that with enough investment, we could transform these particular weapons into major, export items, whose profits would subsidize our own necessary military build up.

As for heavy artillery, we are already manufacturing and marketing an excellent self propelled 155mm system. Going by the name of ATMOS, or Autonomous Truck Mounted Howitzer System, this Elbit produced 155mm/52 caliber cannon has a maximum firing range of 40km, which is a slight improvement on what the heritage 155 mm systems are capable of achieving. However, what we have to develop is what’s called an Extended Range Cannon Artillery system-or ERCA. This mamouth, self propelled 155mm/58 caliber howitzer is currently being developed in the US and has reportedly achieved a range of 70km.

What may be a transformative development, though, the Norwegian company, Nammo, in cooperation with Boeing, has developed a remarkable ram jet propelled shell for the ERCA, that promises to extend the range of this cannon even further-to 110km. This represents what could be a truly transformative development.

There are problems the Americans are experiencing, though, with the extended range howitzer. It seems, that excessive barrel wear threatens to call into question the continuation of this project. I firmly believe, though, that these problems can be overcome with a little ingenuity. Assuming we succeed in solving them, the resulting cannon could dominate the battlefield and provide us with a tremendous export item.

The Naamo system is another matter altogether. It encorporates a unique ramjet technology that would provide a way to solve the problem of the ERCA’s barrel wear. This is because the pricey ramjet projectiles don’t require the breach pressure that the regular extended range projectiles need. With a range of nearly 70 miles, a Naamo type round would give us a tremendous ability to strike all manner of targets at range without the need of Air Force involvement. For example, we could, with one surprise barrage take out the entire air defense system protecting Damascus from positions well within northern Israel, or provide our maneuver units with the ability to engage enemy artillery units from a range that would protect them from counter battery fire. Our maneuver units would also be able to interdict an enemy formation’s entire logistical train probably all the way back to its main supply depot. This would have the effect of forcing an enemy to move its tactical supply centers further away from the battlefield, thereby reducing their ability to support their forward deployed formations. Lastly, in the event the Naamo round were to be provided with precision guidance in the form of AI enhanced machine vision, enemy headquarters, critical communications units and mobile air defenses could be destroyed close to their starting points, thereby totally disorganizing their attached field units.

One other type of heavy field artillery which has made a name for itself in the Russo-Ukrainian War is the 203mm/56 caliber (8-inch) self-propelled cannon. At the present time, only Russia is manufacturing such a piece, referred to as either the 2S7 Pion or the newer 2S7M Malka.

Perhaps indicating a desire to reduce several of Taiwan’s island fortresses, there are reports indicating that the Chinese have now decided to produce a 203mm/56 caliber heavy cannon, as well. The reasons are not difficult to figure out. These 203mm guns fire a 110kg projectile that can destroy strategic underground tunnel complexes or other reinforced targets. A single shot can create a 16 foot hole in the ground or level an entire steel reinforced concrete building. Originally designed to demolish urban enemy strongholds, these 200mm systems can fire a regular high explosive shell 37.5km or a rocket assisted projectile out to 55km. But in spite of their capacity to inflict massive damage on fixed targets, these super heavy guns have a relatively slow rate of fire and a complicated logistical arrangement. Still, if we could somehow improve these monsters, they would provide us with tremendous advantages.

In the event we applied the same modifications to some of the 200mm guns that we intend to use with the extended range 155mm/58 caliber howitzers, I think our 203mm variant might be able to reach close to 200km. If this is possible with a smaller diameter, ram jet assisted sabot round, we would have a truly transformative cannon at our disposal. Certainly, artillery coverage of Lebanon and Syria would be significantly expanded while Egyptian units attempting to cross the Sinai Peninsula could be taken under precision fire shortly after they crossed the Suez Canal. This system would also have great export potential, particularly in Europe and North East Asia. Taiwan and Vietnam might also be extremely interested in purchasing such a weapon since it would allow them to compensate for their relatively small air forces.

As for precision, long range battlefield rockets, we are currently manufacturing an extremely versatile system based upon IAI’s LORA or Long Range Rocket Artillery system, which can be deployed in a truck mobile 4 round canister launcher. Capable of hypersonic velocity this 624mm precision strike tactical missile has a flight time of 10 minutes, a circular error probable (CEP) of 10m, and comes with three types of warheads: 600kg high explosive, bomlets and a high speed penetrator. LORA’s range can vary between 90 to 430 km.

If we were to improve this system we should try to base it on Russia’s Iskander M tactical ballistic rocket. This would require at least an 800kg warhead and, if we were smart, probably a larger 1,000kg warhead. The LORA’s range would have to grow to between 500-1,000km with an improved CEP of 5-7m, which could be obtained employing AI assisted machine vision. To accommodate these design details we might have to modify LORA’s quasi ballistic trajectory to a purely ballistic one, although with a stronger motor we might be able to offer two different varients- one with LORA’s depressed flight characteristics and another with the Iksander M’s true ballistic flight path. The former could be equipped with a fuel air explosive warhead, while the latter could accommodate a high altitude detonated EMP warhead for anti-radar missions.

Assuming these varients could be manufactured and added to the current LORA, the IDF would have 3 extremely powerful tactical precision strike missiles at its disposal. This mix, if built in sufficient numbers, would severely complicate enemy air defenses while reducing the strike requirements of our Air Force. In addition, we would have the basis of a formidable naval coastal defense weapon that would keep enemy surface combatants as far out of range of our shore based strategic sites as possible. This capability would definitely appeal to many potential foreign buyers.

With regard to multiple launch rocket systems, we are blessed with a range of different weapons grouped around what’s described as the “PULS” or Precision Universal Launch System. Manufactured by Elbit, PULS is produced in 5 sizes ranging from 122mm to 370mm. To its credit, Elbit has been successfully marketing its MLRS products across Europe, in direct competition with the High Mobility Rocket System- or HIMARS, the American MLRS currently made famous by the Ukrainian Ground Forces. In a side by side comparison it’s easy to see why so many NATO countries prefer PULS over the HIMARS. Apart from a far more competitive price, PULS can deliver eight 300mm rockets compared to HIMAR’s six 227mm ones. Or, it can carry either four 150km range Extra or two 300km range Predator heavy tactical missiles as opposed to the one 300km range Army Tactical Missile System -or ATACMS, carried by HIMARS. This type of load out flexibility is something that gives PULS a significant advantage over HIMARS. But we have to recognize that our MLRS inventory needs to be improved both in terms of technology and the way it’s tactically employed. So, what exactly would this involve?

As part of our efforts to improve the IDF’s fighting abilities with domestically manufactured equipment, the following organizational change must be adopted by our land forces in order for them to take maximum advantage of Elbit’s PULS. Simply put, the IDF must significantly expand the number of both attached and independent MLRS firing units in its order of battle. This means that maneuver units down to battalion level must be provided with a variety of integrated MLRS elements and dedicated targeting assets. This will provide each of our maneuver units with immediate precision fire support, while reducing, if not eliminating, the need for close air and tube artillery support. To sustain this ability, the MLRS batteries must be provided with their own anti drone detachments and drone based resupply elements. These latter assets will eliminate the need for slower truck convoys to keep the MLRS firing units adequately stocked with canisterized rocket pods, which can quickly be installed on the firing units and the organic resupply vehicles. At the brigade level, batteries of heavy, longer range missiles should be available to provide additional fires, if necessary, and to undertake interdiction missions against high value targets such as enemy logistical, command/control, artillery and air defense assets.

As far as ranges and warheads are concerned, there is no question that our heavier MLRS rockets, such as the Extra and Predator must be able to reach 500km. This will not only allow them to strike targets throughout the combat zone, but will also give them a tremendous marketing advantage against foreign competitors. With this in mind, a new 500 km range missile equipped with a 1,000kg warhead should also be developed for divisional use.

As far as warheads are concerned, two new types need to be produced. The first involves a thermobaric type warhead similar to the Russian Army’s TOS. Every commentator who’s witnessed it being used against the Ukrainians has said that it’s one of the most devastating weapons they’ve ever seen. And its usefulness is not just in terms of annihilating enemy field formations but, also, their urban strong points, as well. Imagine a scenario where an enemy occupied village or small town is first hit with large conventional warheads that would break open all the buildings. Immediately following this strike the town would then be smothered by thermobaric warheads designed to asphyxiate then burn the surviving enemy combatants. One or two of these treatments would probably encourage any other enemy urban fortification to be quickly evacuated. At the very least it would allow our maneuver formations to safely bypass obliterated towns without getting bogged down in costly house to house warfare. It’s likely the Polish Army, in particular, would be interested in acquiring this capability.

The second new warhead we need, is a greatly enhanced area effects weapon for our heavier, longer range missiles. Assuming this would be based on a new type of blast fragmentation design, these weapons would be able, say, to eliminate an entire command/control headquarters with one round rather than several. It would also be extremely effective against large enemy bivouac sites and supply dumps. As an embarked or shore based naval weapon, it could totally destroy an enemy combatant’s external sensor and weapons assets, rendering the ship incapable of defending itself. On the other hand, if equipped with a conventional EMP warhead, this enhanced area weapon would also be able to wipe out enemy radars and communications systems over a broad area. A barrage of these EMP weapons over enemy convoys, for example, would have the effect of turning the convoy into one long stationary target for follow up precision missile strikes.

The preceding discussion demonstrates how our military industry has only to build on what it already produces in order to significantly improve the IDF’s fighting strength. The fact that the proposed new weapons systems we’ve described will have excellent export potential just confirms the cost effectiveness of all the investment required to produce them. Clearly, we should go forward with these systems as soon as possible in order to assure both our military and economic independence.