December 19, 2023 | Breaking Defense

With 7-ton resupply of water to troops in Gaza, IDF shows precision airdrop capability

Analysts told Breaking Defense the mission could be a test case for potential future, long-range operations in the region.
December 19, 2023 | Breaking Defense

With 7-ton resupply of water to troops in Gaza, IDF shows precision airdrop capability

Analysts told Breaking Defense the mission could be a test case for potential future, long-range operations in the region.

JERUSALEM — A precision airdrop via parachute to an Israeli military division in Gaza illustrated Israel’s abilities to resupply troops via air, a capability that analysts say may have broader ramifications for future potential Isreali Defense Forces operations in the region.

The IDF announced last week that a “logistical airdrop that included parachuting about seven tons of water to hundreds of IDF soldiers currently engaged in combat in Khan Yunis took place over the last few days.” It was the first airdrop to IDF troops in Gaza and the first Israeli operational airdrop since the Second Lebanon war in 2006, the IDF noted.

Such precision is required, according to Israeli Maj. Gen. (res) Uzi Dayan, a former Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF and National Security Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister’s Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, when operating in tight, urban areas.

“It’s not in the desert where you launch it and it can fall here or there, 500 meters away from the place you want it,” Dayan told Breaking Defense, adding that modern Israeli airdrop technique was derived from lessons from the Second Lebanon War.

Dayan, and other analysts, also said the recent airdrop was likely the latest test case for how Israel could resupply troops on other long-range operations, either now should the conflict spread or in some future conflict in the region.

“It’s very good to exercise this in a war,” Dayan said. “You are much more confident on your abilities and your capability to do it in other situations.”

The air drop to the IDF’s 98th division in Gaza also resembled parts of training the 98th had done in Cyrpus in 2022, which simulated a potential conflict with Hezbollah and assumed Israeli troops would be operating inside Lebanon.

Now in Gaza the IDF had a chance to use the capability in wartime. The IDF said that “the special supply operation was carried out using the Shimshon [C-130] aircraft of the 103rd Squadron in a joint operation with the Technology and Logistics Division and the aerial supply unit of the Marom Brigade.” The airdrop made the first use of a “guided supply” system which the IDF described as an “advanced operational system that enables parachuting equipment to ground forces using precise navigational capabilities.”

The IDF noted that “one of the unique operational capabilities of the 98th Division is its independent logistical capabilities when sending supplies on land is not possible. All the elements of the division practiced joint use of the system to achieve precise delivery capabilities via parachute.”

Dayan noted that Israel currently is dealing with four arenas of security concern: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and other threats in the West Bank. Asked about whether this air drop capability has ramifications for longer-range operations he said, “it is prepared to another kind of war, the answer is yes, but we are not looking for more wars. What we got now is enough. We are very determined to win this war and all those fronts and not seeking for more long range wars or long range operations. We intend to win all those four fronts but not seeking for new ones.”

Lazar Berman, who served as an analyst in the IDF General Staff’s Dado Center for Interdisciplinary Military Studies, pointed out that the “98th Division is light and nimble, designed for operations deep in enemy territory and not for armor-heavy urban combat in the Gaza Strip.” He said the supply line for the division has been vulnerable to anti-tank fire and mines.

“It is conceivable that this is an opportunity to use airborne logistics in combat as a test run against Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed proxies in Lebanon and Syria,” said Berman, now the diplomatic correspondent at the Times of Israel. “The 98th Division is designed for that type of war, and less for armor-heavy urban combat in the Gaza Strip. But the air drop also makes sense in the campaign against Hamas.”

A third analyst agreed. “The 98th is Israel’s premier airborne division,” said Jonathan Spyer, a Research Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies. “A key capacity of such formations is their ability to supply themselves from the air, and to operate when a long logistical ‘tail’ is impractical. It’s clear that in the context of southern Gaza, it is not beyond the IDF’s capacities to supply the division by land.  But the IDF as it appears wants to test capacities which may be essential to the division in other contexts, under conditions of actual combat.”

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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