Artillery: Israel Goes Long With Robots

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July 3, 2018: In early 2018 Israel decided to develop a new artillery unit composed of long-range (300 kilometers or more) surface-to-surface missiles. This was not a surprise because since 2011 the Israeli army has been changing its approach to artillery. This began when Israel decided to replace most of its 155mm artillery with GPS guided rockets in 2011. That was followed by training some of these rocket battalions to fire GPS guided rockets into inhabited areas. For the present, this means Gaza, where Israel has heretofore used F-16s firing smart bombs or helicopters using guided missiles to attack terrorist targets there. Now, the GPS guided rockets take over more and more of these missions. This will be a lot cheaper and, with more shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles showing up in Gaza, a lot safer for Israeli aircraft.

These changes began after Israel noted the success the Americans were having with GPS guided rockets in Afghanistan. The weapon used in Afghanistan was the 309 kg (680 pound) GMLRS (guided multiple launch rocket system), a 227mm GPS guided rocket that entered service in 2004. It has a range of 70 kilometers and the ability to land within meters of its intended target at any range. This is because of using GPS, plus a less accurate back up inertial guidance system, to find its target. Israel accepted that the American use of GPS guidance in rockets, while more expensive, was more effective than the cheaper (but less accurate) Israeli developed rocket guidance system and even cheaper unguided artillery shells.

Israel has gone ahead and developed its own GPS guided rockets, like the Romach, a 175mm rocket similar to the American GMLRS but smaller and with a range of 35 kilometers. Israel has also developed a GPS guided 155mm artillery shell and 120mm mortar shell. Each tank battalion has some of these 120mm mortars and using GPS guided shells does not require using a lot of ammo to get the job done. In effect, Israel has all but eliminated the use of the traditional artillery barrage, reducing ammo use by over 90 percent. This meant many artillery units were not needed and were disbanded.

In 2016 Israel introduced the locally developed EXTRA (EXTended Range Artillery) GPS guided rocket. This is a 570 kg (1,254 pounds) 306mm weapon that has a max range of 150 kilometers. There is a ship launched (Trigon) version of this in service and an air-launched (Rampage) version that enters service in 2019.

This radical shift in artillery weapons has been coming since the 2006 war with Hezbollah when the Israelis found that they did little damage to Hezbollah bunkers, even though over 120,000 unguided 155mm shells were fired at them. Meanwhile, they noted that the U.S. 227mm MLRS rockets with GPS guidance were excellent at taking out similar targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. So Israel equipped its 160mm Accular rockets with GPS. These 110 kg (242 pound) rockets have a range of 40 kilometers and enable one bunker to be destroyed with one rocket. The larger and more accurate (lands within 5 meters of the target versus 10 meters) Romach came out of that project.

The new long-range rocket unit will initially be equipped with LORA (Long Range Artillery Rocket). Israel introduced LORA in 2007 and back then it was noted that the Israeli weapon was similar to the U.S. ATACMS. Each LORA missile weighed up to 1.8 tons depending on which types of warhead carried. These weighed from 400 to 600 kg. Normally range is 300 kilometers but that can be extended to 400 kilometers with a lighter warhead. GPS guidance is standard (with jam proof INS backup) which will land the warhead within 10 meters (30 feet) of the aim point.

LORA was an improvement on the American ATACMS (introduced in 1986) and one was fired from a MLRS launcher that normally carried six of the standard 227mm MLRS rockets. Both LORA and ATACMs are 610mm rockets that weighed about the same and used GPS/INS guidance system. Both are basically short-range ballistic missiles. Where LORA differed was in that it was carried, four to a sealed launcher, on a heavy truck. Moreover, LORA was designed from the beginning to be operated from ships and to use additional guidance system options. The one that was known about was a two-way video link that enabled an operator to confirm the target, abort of necessary and also adjust aim to make it a bit more accurate. Israel has other guidance system options which are not advertised, like a pattern matching system that will provide even more accuracy and is jam proof (no GPS or radio link).

In 2017 Israel announced a successful test of a new version of its LORA system that can be mounted and fired from standard shipping containers. The test involved a truck hauling a shipping container parked on a ship deck. The containerized LORA uses a minimum of two containers; one containing four missiles each in the standard sealed container, and the standard electric (not hydraulic) system to point the missile skyward so it will be fired without the rocket blast damaging the ship. Another container contains the control center and some maintenance and test equipment. In the original ship launched version the launch center electronics were installed in the ship CIC (Combat Information Center) like other fire control equipment. A ship could carry four or more containers with launchers and the container version could also be used on land with the containers mounted on any heavy truck or tractor-trailer designed to carry those containers. The new container system also makes it easier to add more firepower to existing warships or even unarmed naval support vessels. LORA also has a ground (and bunker) penetrating conventional warhead for LORA.

Israel is using its experience with LORA to design and build more long range (300 kilometers or more) guided rockets to take over missions previously handled by manned aircraft. In addition to LORA there is also the experience with loitering munitions. Israel now has a ground-launched version of its air-launched Delilah cruise missile. Delilah saw combat for the first time during the 2006 war with Hezbollah. Delilah is a 1.3 ton weapon, with a range of 250 kilometers and a 30 kg (66 pounds) warhead. It uses GPS, inertial systems and onboard vidcam for guidance. Delilah is designed to cruise around, taking and transmitting vidcam images to detect the right target, then attacking. In Lebanon, it was used to attack trucks carrying missiles. Delilah can stay in the air for up to half an hour and has been used in Syria several times during 2018 to destroy air defense systems. The ground-launched Delilah is meant for any type of target. There was always talk of a longer range Delilah and now that there is a ground-launched version and a longer range (at least 500 kilometers) version might be a useful addition to the long-range missile artillery unit. Israel currently plans to spend as much as $2 billion on his unit over and next decade and initially the unit is receiving $500 million for more LORA missiles and launch vehicles.

 


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