The Israel Defense Forces’ Armored Corps is making a number of far-reaching organizational and structural changes. In addition to dismantling six reserve brigades equipped with outdated tanks, changes will be made to regular service units. Infantry support companies, which will provide scouting, reconnaissance and mortar capabilities, will be introduced into each of the regular tank battalions.
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The commander of the Armored Corps, Brig. Gen. Shmulik Olansky, said at a press conference on Wednesday that the changes are needed in order to address new challenges on the battlefield. He said the corps, like all of the IDF’s mobile units, must be able to deal with a new kind of enemy that operates in urban areas among civilian populations and uses fortified positions and a wide array of anti-tank weaponry and explosives to delay the advance of attacking forces.
Currently most IDF tank battalions consist of three tank companies of draftee soldiers and one light infantry company. Under the new structure one tank company will be removed and an additional reserve company will be attached to each battalion. The remaining draftee soldiers will serve in the support company, and the battalions will bring in additional reserve light infantry companies as well. In the future, each armored brigade will have a reconnaissance company and an engineering company of soldiers in compulsory service.
Starting with the upcoming November 13 draft cohort, new recruits who would previously have undergone traditional armored corps training will instead begin training as infantry soldiers, for the new infantry support companies. These will comprise a reconnaissance platoon, a scouting platoon and a mortar platoon that will use new, mechanized and computerized 120mm mortar systems.
“The Armored Corps is embarking on a new journey and training its soldiers for a new kind of battlefield," Olansky said, adding, "We are building our battalions with a lot of firepower, as well as intelligence-gathering capabilities and the ability to overcome many obstacles.”
He said the changes to the army, while prompted by budget issues, are actually an opportunity to upgrade the Armored Corps and make it more effective.
But the new program does seem to have an Achilles heel, in the scaling down of training. The is reducing training for both regular and reserve-duty soldiers for budgetary reasons.
Under the new battalion structure, Armored Corps infantry soldiers will have to be proficient with a wide range of new equipment. It's not clear if enough training will be allotted to guarantee sufficient proficiency on the new, unfamiliar equipment.
Olansky said the Armored Corps will continue to take delivery of Merkava 4 tanks and the 7th Armored Brigade will begin training on the newest models next year. By then, the 401st Brigade will have completely finished the process.
The reserve armored brigades that are to be eliminated as part of the new plan were trained on Magach tanks, upgraded versions of American Patton M60 tanks first introduced in the 1960s, and the Merkava 1.