Israel’s ongoing fight to defend itself against terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas provides an important yardstick by which to measure the growing military capability of these groups. With support and training from states such as Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas have been able to employ increasingly sophisticated tactics and technologies. Among the most significant of these has been the massive use of unguided rockets, first seen during the 2006 war in southern Lebanon. Today, Hezbollah is estimated to have stockpiled some 30,000 rockets and missiles of various ranges. From their stronghold in Gaza, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been continually bombarding Israel for years. While the majority of these attacks have employed very primitive, unguided, short-range Qassam rockets, the terrorists have acquired and employed longer-range, larger and more sophisticated missiles.
Given the extent to which Western militaries, particularly the United States and Israel, have come to rely on drones, it is not surprising that the terrorists too are making increased use of them. Hezbollah first employed drones, reportedly provided by Iran, in 2006. It routinely employs drones to monitor Israeli activities along the Lebanese border. Today, Hezbollah is reported to have a stockpile of up to 200 drones. Israeli news sources reported that a few days ago the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) downed a drone being operated from Gaza. The Israeli military said it had shot down the drone with a Patriot surface-to-air missile.
Drones are the “poor man’s” air force. They can provide a quantum leap in ISR capabilities, allowing the terrorists to monitor their adversaries’ operations, anticipate attacks and even select targets for strikes by artillery, rockets and missiles. Drones loaded with explosives also could be used as precision-guided weapons, overcoming one of the serious limitations of the terrorists’ arsenals of rockets and missiles. Small, low-flying drones may prove even more difficult targets for Israeli defenses than short-range rockets.
Israel’s military operations over the past decade against Hezbollah and Hamas attacks have provided many vital lessons for Western militaries about how to deal with so-called asymmetric threats. The IDF thoroughly analyzed the problems experienced in the 2006 operation in southern Lebanon and developed a new set of tactics to deal with terrorist organizations seeking to use civilian infrastructure to shield themselves from retaliation. Major Israeli operations against Hamas in 2008, 2009, 2012 and now 2014 in response to large-scale rocket attacks reflected the lessons learned and Israel’s determination to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage to the greatest extent possible while still engaging and defeating Hamas’ military capabilities.
Another lesson Israel learned in 2006 was the importance of a comprehensive missile defense of the country against rockets and missiles of all ranges. Israel and the United States had been collaborating for a number of years on long-range missile defenses, culminating in the deployment by Israel of the Arrow system. The 2006 conflict made it clear that Israel needed a missile defense system against short-range rockets and missiles. With U.S. assistance, Israel developed the Iron Dome system, nine batteries of which have now been deployed (Israel plans to add at least three more batteries in the near-term). The genius of Iron Dome is that it is a relatively low-cost solution that relies in large part on very rapid and accurate target identification and tracking in order to prioritize intercepts against those inbound objects that will land in built-up areas. Against targeted threats, Iron Dome is reported to have a 90 percent success rate. By these tactics, and because of the relatively low-cost interceptor employed by Iron Dome, Israel has been able to manage the offense-defense cost-exchange ratio.
The U.S. military needs to take the Israeli experience to heart. In Iraq, the U.S. had to deal with only relatively limited attacks by mortar, rockets and missiles deployed in urban environments and no hostile drones. This is not likely to be the case in the future. Nor will it be sufficient to rely on air superiority to neutralize these threats, assuming the U.S. will continue to enjoy this advantage. The U.S. must invest seriously in mobile, land-based defenses against rockets, missiles and drones.
Against the threat from large numbers of relatively cheap rockets, missiles and drones, systems such as Iron Dome that use a rocket as an interceptor may not always be viable. The U.S. should accelerate R&D efforts in the Army and Navy to develop and deploy tactical high energy weapons. Relatively low power tactical lasers have been shown to be effective against such threats. An extremely low power laser can blind a hostile drone, rendering it ineffective as an ISR platform. Moreover, a single shot by a tactical laser defense would cost in the neighborhood of $1, totally upending the cost-exchange ratio between the offense and defense.
Find Archived Articles: