The Israel Defense Forces is setting up a battalion for launching rockets into populated areas. The battalion, part of the Artillery Corps, will carry out missions that so far only the Israel Air Force could execute, IDF sources told Haaretz.

Two weeks ago the ground forces approved in principle an Artillery Corps plan for setting up the IDF's first short-range rocket battalion next year. The battalion will first fire rockets with a range of 30 to 40 kilometers and will proceed to long-range rockets in the coming years, military sources said.

The plan is expected to alter the IDF's modus operandi. At present, striking a terror organization's headquarters, for example, requires the air force to drop a bomb weighing between hundreds of kilograms to a ton on it. The new rocket, designed to carry a 20-kilogram warhead, will be launched by artillery officers.

The rocket, made by Israel Military Industries, is estimated to cost between NIS 100,000 and NIS 200,000. With a precision of up to 10 meters of its target, it is seen as highly accurate.

However, when a rocket is fired into a built-up, densely populated area, a 10-meter deflection can wreak destruction and kill uninvolved people, the sources said. For this reason the IDF intends to evacuate a targeted building before launching the rocket, in a bid to minimize damage. Then it will reevaluate the target to ascertain whether it contains terrorists or serves as a terror headquarters before firing the rocket, the sources said.

"With this device, which is a sort of mini-bomb, we can control the extent of the damage," a senior artillery officer said.

"Today we are totally dependent on the air force, as we were in Operation Cast Lead [in Gaza, in December 2008] and the Second Lebanon War. We want the ground forces to be autonomous in exercising fire," he said.

Most Western armies today operate rockets to aid their ground forces. The IDF has refrained from doing so until now due to the rockets' imprecision, with the exception of the Artillery Corps' multiple launch rocket system, MLRS rockets - the corps' cluster bombs.

The rockets' advantage lies mainly in their range and relatively low cost.

At first the rockets will have a GPS-based guiding system.

Later on the Artillery Corps expects to use improved rockets that will be controlled without a GPS.

In the future the corps plans to use long-range and very-long-range rockets that can travel up to 160 kilometers and dozens of explosives. An artillery officer said the new rockets "will fly to almost any range the ground forces need - and beyond."

Air force officers voiced reservations in discussions about the long-range rockets, saying their use would overlap some of the air force's missions.

The Artillery Corps is planning to upgrade the accuracy of artillery shells in the near future. In the meantime, the IDF is expected to purchase precise artillery rockets in the coming years, an officer said.

Read this article in Hebrew