February 9, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Detect and destroy: The IDF unit protecting Israel from rockets

The unit uses radar and other tech to detect all the missile threats to Israel, define their type, identify where they're heading, and help destroy them.
February 9, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

Detect and destroy: The IDF unit protecting Israel from rockets

The unit uses radar and other tech to detect all the missile threats to Israel, define their type, identify where they're heading, and help destroy them.

When rockets are fired at Israel by terrorist groups such as Hamas, the launches are detected, and the sound of sirens sends Israelis running to shelters. Since the war in Gaza began, more than 10,000 rockets have been fired at Israel at an unprecedented rate. During the first hours of October 7, thousands of rockets blanketed southern and central Israel. While rocket fire has been significantly reduced by the IDF’s operations in Gaza, the threat remains.

One of the IDF’s units that plays a role in detecting rockets and helping to determine from where they are launched, so that the source can be destroyed, is the 611th Battalion of the 282nd Fire Brigade. The Jerusalem Post spoke to the commander and another officer of this unique and important unit that uses radar and other technology to help Israel respond to threats in Gaza or on other fronts. This group of soldiers plays a key role in the war effort.

The unit commander, Lt.-Col. B., whose full name is withheld for security reasons, describes his small force as a “close-knit unit.” It guards and protects Israel and provides important “hits on the enemy,” he says. The unit helps to correct Israel’s artillery fire, increasing its accuracy, thus providing the precision to defend against threats and to aid operations in Gaza.

“All the artillery shot in Gaza was exactly because of our unit,” he says.

It fills the commander with pride to discuss how the unit is able to use its radar technology and other assets to spot missiles being launched by the enemy, give soldiers real-time warnings to reach shelters, and provide coordinates so that fire can be directed against the enemy.

The soldiers in this war are motivated to defeat and destroy Hamas.

“We know if they stay, that they will kill us and do the same thing they did [on October 7]. The whole world is looking at what we do right now, and they are looking to see that light will defeat the evil and [overcome] the dark[ness].”

As soon as the war began, the members of this unit, who were at home as were most Israelis, mobilized immediately to their base. When I spoke to the commander, the unit had been serving for over 100 days, like many of the 300,000 reservists Israel called up on October 7.

The commander notes that many had wondered whether this generation of Israelis was ready for a long slog of a war such as this. Critics, he says, have called this a “TikTok generation,” referring to the social media platform that uses short videos to keep people engaged.

“I see soldiers that after 100 days do everything as fast as they can and they are ready and will do what they need to do as long as they need; they are a nation that is here until they win and defeat their enemy.”

Lt.-Col. B. also lauds his unit’s young soldiers who have taken on a great responsibility. “They can see anything in the air, and they make decisions from the smallest to the biggest ones, and they control the whole area.”

The commander, too, had been at home on October 7. His parents are Americans. His grandparents served in the US Army. “I am the first generation in the IDF,” he notes. Lt.-Col. B. received a phone call at 7 a.m. on October 7 describing the widespread rocket fire and the attacks on Israel. He and his soldiers immediately responded. He didn’t go home for the first 55 days of the war. Recently he was able to celebrate a Shabbat with his family after 100 days.

The 611th is usually based in the North with its artillery brigade. Nevertheless, on October 7, within a few hours, it was ready to move south and do what needed to be done. The unit uses radar and other technology to detect all the missile threats to Israel, define their type, identify where they are heading, network with other radars and technology that send Israelis to shelters, and then provide data to units that can counter the threat and destroy the enemy.

How the IDF stops rocket attacks

This process is described as the “three Ds”: detect, define, and destroy. This technology, some of the details of which are classified, provides Israel with the ability to identify threats and hit back. The commander says that Hamas is still firing rockets “here and there.”

 They “still have the capability, but we can see the capability is less[ening] and they are not doing as they were doing in the beginning. We know it’s a long war; they were [getting] ready for 20 years. We can see the success of the Air Force and [the] Navy and [the] boots on the ground, and my unit knows how to connect them together and to defeat the enemy.”

Detecting enemy fire and using artillery or other means to suppress it is a method that militaries have used for hundreds of years. However, Israel has the latest technology, and this enables quick detection and threat definition, as well as sending out warnings – while knitting this together with units that can fire back. This is a process that requires rapid data generation and providing the right information to all the units involved.

Today, the main concern in Israel regarding the threat of rockets is Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has fired 2,000 rockets at Israel since October 8, when it began to support the Hamas attacks on Israel. It also uses drones and anti-tank guided missiles that threaten northern Israel.

As I was typing this article, there was rocket fire toward northern Israel. It is a daily event. Hezbollah has a larger rocket arsenal than Hamas. “I am ready for the North, and the nation is ready and the army is ready – there has to be war there,” says the commander. He also notes that large numbers of Israelis have been evacuated from the North due to the threats.

“We have to give them the security that they are supposed to get as citizens.”

CAPTAIN Y. is a commander in the 611th. She was in a command officer’s course in the Negev when the war broke out.

“I was awoken by the sirens, and I went to Be’eri,” she says, referring to the kibbutz on the border that suffered a major massacre on October 7. To get there, they boarded a bus and went via Beersheba.

“We tried to get into the kibbutz to free people and rescue them. I did that for two days. I wasn’t in touch with my unit,” she recalls.

The experience of fighting the terrorists in the first days was jarring.

“I don’t think any of us who were living thought we would see an event like that, there were many killed and wounded and terrorists we had to kill, and bodies and chaos; a lot of forces arrived,” she recalls.

She fought for 48 hours alongside others who had come to save the kibbutz and defeat the enemy. Numerous terrorists were killed. Some civilians were rescued from the inferno. After the battle, she returned to the 611th unit. The unit was already gathered, as the commander noted above. Captain Y., released from her command officer’s course, was made head of a section in the unit.

She helped command the soldiers and the technology that the unit uses, with its radar and other systems, to defend southern Israel from the attacks from Gaza.

“We had a section around Gaza, everything relating to the protection of the people and the area, and then when the IDF went in we could give them protection.”

Israel’s current protective siren system divides the country into areas, usually hexagons, in order to warn specific areas. That means that if one person is at a coffee shop in north Ashkelon and someone else is in the industrial area of southern Ashkelon, for example, they may be in different areas to be warned, depending on where the rockets are headed. However, when a large unit is on the move, such as a column of tanks in Gaza, it isn’t in an area pre-defined to be warned of incoming fire.

As such, the 611th helps to warn the units that are operating in Gaza. Captain Y describes this as an intimate relationship, not involving calling the units and warning them about the threats instead of using sirens.

When the threat begins, such as rockets being launched, they get in touch with the unit that is threatened, and then their job is to use fire to respond by striking the point from where the rockets are being fired.

“We need to give them [those responding] as precise data as possible, so we help to provide protection and warning and to activate fire, so we work closely with the forces,” she says.

Captain Y describes an incident in which Golani infantry were being fired at, and the 611th was able to help protect them so that none of the infantry were harmed. “That’s what makes our day. We saved lives, and we end our day happy to know that. So that’s the main point,” she says.

Now the army is learning from the experience in Gaza.

“As the IDF, as an army, we need to learn to adapt during the war, and if there is something where there isn’t a solution, we need to solve it.”

The unit also worked throughout the November 24-December 1 pause in fighting, when rocket fire stopped in Gaza.

“I am so proud. It doesn’t matter when and how, we are able to give protection, and there isn’t a second [when] we are not in the picture. We are there 24/7, non-stop, and that’s what I should say. Where it’s strikes or rockets, we are able to give what[ever support] we need to our forces in Gaza, and that gives me pride.”

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.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power