Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi with incoming Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi at a ceremony at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Jan. 16, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi with incoming Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi at a ceremony at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, Jan. 16, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Former IDF chief of staff left his successor a network-based war machine

The IDF’s definition of victory has been changed to mean maximum destruction of enemy capabilities rather than seizing land; Herzi Halevi’s challenge is to keep ground forces modernization programs going strong.

On Jan. 16, the twenty-second chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, passed the baton to his successor, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

Kochavi’s main legacy is the stress he placed on converting the IDF into a network-based war machine. Now, Halevi’s challenge will be to find his own ways to push forward new force building programs, with a particular emphasis on the ground forces. 

One of Kochavi’s first acts at chief of staff was, in 2019, to kickstart the “Momentum” multi-year IDF working program, and its victory concept, which calls for destroying maximum enemy capabilities (rather than the traditional emphasis on seizing land) in the minimum amount of time, and at the minimum human and financial cost.

Now, Halevi will be formulating his own multi-year program, while seeking government funding for it.

In 2019, Kochavi began the Momentum plan by initiating four distinct stages: diagnosis, formulating a new concept for activating the military, shaping of principles for the future, and establishing a framework for planning the future Israeli military.

During the diagnosis stage, in April 2019 the IDF gathered every serving major general and brigadier general in a single forum, and asked them to present their views on the military’s strengths and weaknesses, along with their recommendations. This “MRI,” as some in the defense establishment call it, yielded a wealth of information.

Thirty teams then convened to envision the challenges of the next decade. They were divided into three groups: “red teams” focused on trends shaping the enemy, “blue teams” on the future of the IDF and “white teams” on the evolving strategic environment.

The red teams emphasized that precision-strike weapons were rapidly proliferating, and that miniaturization technology is accelerating this process. Urban warfare was identified as a major trend that will shape combat for the foreseeable future. The blue teams evaluated potential future Israeli national GDP figures, social trends and other factors that will influence the IDF in both positive and negative ways.

Momentum’s force-building program is guided by three major initiatives. The first, creating a ground-offensive capability in which IDF field units are able to operate on the ground, underground, in the air, in the electromagnetic spectrum and in the cyber domain at the same time. A second axis is based on increasing Israeli firepower. A third axis is intended to strengthen Israeli domestic defenses.

But it is the revised definition of victory that is one of the most remarkable aspects of the Momentum program.

Momentum now defines victory as “rapid destruction of enemy capabilities,” not just getting ground forces to the edge of their assigned “blue arrows,” as Kochavi stated.

Momentum’s force activation blueprint is heavily time-focused. This is because every day that the Israeli home front is bombarded with rockets and missiles, the national economy cannot function and the state suffers significant damage. This is especially true as adversaries, particularly Hezbollah, seek to arm themselves with precision-guided missiles, allowing them to strike sensitive and symbolic targets deep within Israel despite layers of air defenses.

Momentum envisions sharper, more lethal IDF, with field units receiving a wealth of capabilities.

In practice, this means that a battalion has been digitally linked to all relevant forces in its sector, as well as to the Intelligence Directorate. Upon detection of time-sensitive targets, such as an anti-tank cell hiding on the third floor of a tower block, a company commander is able to activate his own drones and use the IDF’s digital command and control network to activate tanks, helicopters, or electronic warfare units.

If Momentum succeeds, the IDF will be a significantly more lethal, networked war machine by 2030. Its battalions will be far more self-sufficient than those of 2020.

The IDF is also being designed to be able to launch long-range strikes against Iran if necessary.

On Sept. 15, 2022, the results of many of these efforts were put on display. This despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic had delayed some of Kochavi’s planning.

The IDF staged an operational firepower display as part of its first-ever International Operational Innovation Conference at the Tze’elim Base in the northwestern Negev, where it hosted chiefs of staff and commanders from dozens of militaries around the world.

That display provided a glimpse into the IDF’s networked war machine, which foreign militaries watched closely.

Two hundred participants from 24 military delegations spent three days at Tze’elim learning about new IDF combat capabilities and operational processes, culminating in a live-fire exercise demonstrating what the IDF refers to as multi-dimensional or multi-domain coordination.

The goal, the visitors heard, is to give field commanders access to the full range of attack and intelligence capabilities available to the Israeli Air Force and the IDF General Staff, including relevant satellite data, aerial firepower and artillery and missile support.

Military delegations from the United States, Greece, Cyprus, Morocco, the Czech Republic, Poland, and many other countries came to learn more about this concept and how it is being implemented by the IDF.

“We are dealing with organizational learning,” Kochavi told students of a senior commanders course last year.

“The senior commander is first and foremost one who understands that there is no existing knowledge that can be ‘taken out of a hat,’ and they have the responsibility for developing their knowledge and that of their units. In areas such as the Golan Heights, Lebanon, Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip there will always be a unique reality that requires a unique response. The development of combat methods against a changing enemy requires adjustments that will create relevance for victory. All these explain why all-encompassing knowledge for different sectors and challenges simply does not exist,” he said.

He also hailed what he described as “the courage to look yourself in the mirror and say harsh things to yourself. Not only to voice them to yourself, but to practice generalship and recruit your comrades and openly tell them the same things—in a loud voice, to the entire group and the entire organization. In the workshop regarding the current operational concept, we placed ourselves in front of the mirror and said, in a clear voice, things that for years had never been said outside meeting rooms: there is a gap between the reality and the response.”

The baton has now been passed on Halevi, and how he will shape the IDF’s in the coming years will have a critical effect on Israel’s future security.

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