IDF unveils 5 year Momentum Plan

What happened: The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) yesterday published its new 5 year Momentum Plan which was unveiled by Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi. The plan calls for further modernisation of the IDF under a “multi-dimensional” framework whereby the military shifts to a “multi-force, multi-corps and joint” war fighting doctrine.

  • “Momentum” came out of a year-long process undertaken by a dozen working groups within the IDF that identified the key strategic challenges facing Israel in the coming years. These included: the rise of “terror armies” that combine the lack of morals of terror groups with the capabilities of modern armies (i.e. Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran’s Quds Force); a growing “high trajectory” threat (massive amounts of rockets and missiles fired at Israel); dispersed enemies operating out of dense urban environments; and a multitude of active – and potentially simultaneous – theatres of operations.
  • The guiding doctrine for the IDF moving forward is to “shorten” the time of combat, while attaining higher “achievements” on the battlefield, and at the same time minimising the “costs” to Israel. As Kochavi put it: “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.”
  • To “create as big a gap between the IDF and the enemy’s capabilities,” as one senior IDF officer put it, hence the name “Momentum,” the plan calls for a series of reorganisations and modernisations within the military. The “joint” war fighting concept will apply to all forces – ground, air, naval, intelligence, and cyber – so that no single mission will solely be handled by one branch. This applies in particular to forces operating at the front, i.e. combat battalions and brigades maneuvering at “the tip of the spear,” the IDF officer said.
  • In addition, a new dedicated command within the General Staff will be created to handle “third circle” threats, i.e. Iran, bringing all of the effort under one Major-General.
  • Older platforms and units will be phased out, including an entire armoured brigade that operates outdated Merkava battle tanks and two air squadrons that operate ageing fighter jets. A second F-35i squadron will be created and overall IDF training is set to be streamlined by harnessing technological advances. The Air Force is also expected to replace ageing Sikorsky CH-53 heavy transport helicopters with either Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook or Lockheed Martin’s CH-53K King Stallion. The Navy is still set to acquire four new Sa’ar-6 missile ships, deployed primarily in defence of Israel’s offshore natural gas fields.

Context: The new Momentum Plan comes at a delicate political moment in Israel, with no government – and hence no new budget – for the past year.

  • The plan, however, has already been approved by Minister of Defence Naftali Bennett and is believed to have received the blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (despite comments yesterday, likely election related, urging the IDF to incorporate more offensive capabilities).
  • The plan still requires official approval from the Security Cabinet and, most importantly, budgetary approval after a new Israeli government is in place. The IDF has already begun implementing some parts of Momentum under the 2019 budgetary framework, with the expected increase in military spending called for by the plan requiring further negotiations with the Finance Ministry. The IDF insists any increases can be partly offset by streamlining, reorganistation (like those highlighted above) and other cost-cutting measures.
  • The plan was welcomed by politicians and defence experts, although most emphasised that political and budgetary constraints would ultimately dictate how much of Kochavi’s vision is actually implemented.
  • Amos Harel, in Haaretz criticised the plan for not focusing at all on the IDF’s Reserve Forces, which in all of Israel’s past campaigns played a crucial role in the fighting.

Looking ahead: Large-scale acquisitions of new offensive and defensive platforms, while harnessing emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, and modern communication platforms, will undoubtedly increase the IDF’s lethality while better protecting the Israeli home front. This single point underpins the strategic logic behind Momentum: in the next war, Israel will have to take the fight to the enemy more swiftly and effectively than in the past, while coping with a barrage of missiles and rockets on the home front – strategic sites, symbols of the state, population centres – unlike anything seen before.

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