Military & Aerospace

Israel-Hezbollah Conflict Part-5 : The Rocket Threat
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Issue Vol 22.1 Jan - Mar 2007 | Date : 26 Apr , 2007

The free rocket threat may not be relevant immediately in the sub continental context. However it is certain that terrorist organisations operating in J&K are likely to draw their lessons form this conflict.

Hence the need to study the equipment employed, its performance and response options. The Hezbollah had as arsenal of some 14,000 of the following class of free or unguided rockets:

  • Katyusha Rockets. Alon Ben David, writing in the Janes Defence Weekly (25 July 06 issue) states that the most popular were the Katyusha rockets of 122mm caliber with a range of upto 40 kms.48
  • R’aad. The Syrian made 220mm Rocket has a 45 km range and a 50 kg explosive and fragmentation war head. This was used by the Hezbollah to strike Haifa – Israel’s third largest city.49
  • Fajr-3. This is an Iranian made 240 mm Rocket with a range of 50kms. This was used by the Hezbollah in its failed attempt to strike the Israeli Air Force (IAF) Base in Northern Israel. 50
  • Fajr-5. This is a 330mm Iranian Rocket with a range of 70kms.51
  • Zelzal. There are three variants of this Iranian Rocket (Zezal 1,2 and 3). These have a 600kg war head and ranges of 120km, 200km and 400km respectively. The prime feature of this war was the Hezbollah’s massive use of these unguided rockets to strike the Israeli population centres in Northern Israel.52

Impact of Rockets

The Free Rockets of the 122mm Katyusha class were extensively used in the the Second World War by the Russians. They made up for their lack of accuracy by their employment in mass. Not very effective against well entrenched troops, they are nevertheless quite lethal and effective when employed as terror weapons against the civilian targets and crowded population centers. As per Alon Ben David about a million Israeli civilians in Northern Israel were forced to live in bomb shelters for the duration of the war. Another 250,000 fled to Southern Israel. 54 civilians were killed in the rocket attacks and several hundred more were wounded.53

Though the threat from the larger rockets was very effectively tackled by the Israeli Air Force, the relatively unsophisticated 122mm Katyusha Rockets were very hard to locate (especially from the air) and conversely very easy to hide and carry. The Israeli Air Force wasted considerable effort looking for the mobile launchers.

Towards the end of the war it became evident that most of these rockets were fired from “kill boxes” in static, underground and well dug in position 3-4 kms from the border. The Launchers were stored in clusters of ten, hydraulically raised to the surface and fired by remote actuators/ timers. The survivability of these underground kill boxes was exceedingly high. Tank runs to these were well reconnoitered and covered by Hezbollah Anti-tank Missiles and RPG teams. Despite the fierce pounding by the IAF and the Israeli Artillery and tanks, these kept up a steady barrage averaging between 130-200 rockets a day at Israeli Civilian targets. 54

Iraqs Scud missiles had caught the imagination of the media in the First Gulf War. It had proved to be a “super power buster” and gave the Iraqis their sole means of hitting back at Israel and the Arab Bases of the Coalition Forces.

In the 2006 Lebanon conflict, the 122mm Katyusha Rockets stole the limelight. The Hezbollah had clearly prepared well for this war. Given their hopeless lack of air cover, they opted for this rugged but simple solution and prepared for a Rocket War in an elaborate and painstaking manner. The entire issue of conflict termination got mixed up with the need to suppress this rain of simple rockets. This was a virtually impossible task given the low visibility, short range and negligible signature of the Katyusha class rockets. Thus the war dragged on for a month, without the Israelis being able to ensure full suppression of this rocket barrage. This gave the Hezbollah a moral victory of sorts ( in as much as the Israelis were not able to pound them into submission in the near term). However, in the long term, they ended up absorbing more punishment than they had bargained for and this is becoming tellingly evident with each month that passes with the cease-fire intact/holding.

Anti-Rocket Measures

The relative lack of sophistication of the Katyusha is what makes it so hard to defeat as a terror weapon. An air alone option just could not have suppressed this barrage. The only option was to seize a contiguous strip of territory all along the Lebanon frontier, that would put the civilian habitations out of Heroallahs Katyusha range. This called for a broad based land offensive that should have come much earlier in the war. The longer range Raads, Fajrs and Zel Zal Rockets had a far more prominent signature and were very successfully neutralised by the IAF. Arrow Anti Ballistic Missile Batteries were deployed for the defence of Tel Aviv. The Patriot Advanced Capability – 2 (PAC – 2) low to high altitude Missile Defence Battery was deployed in Haifa (the port town) to intercept the longer range missiles like the Zel Zal. The Israeli Navy deployed its Saar Class Missile Boats with their Barrak Missile point Defence Systems for the defence of the Haifa harbor. However, the threat was apparently taken lightly as an Israeli Saar V class Missile Correvette was hit by an Iranian C – 802 Noor class Anti Ship Guided Missile. Strangely the ships multilayered protection system had not been activated and the INS Hanit was disabled. This was serious loss of face for the Israeli Navy. Reportedly another C- 701 class missile was also fired at the Hanit but missed it and sank a Cambodian ship instead.55

Anti-Rocket Solutions

Alon Ben David says overall some 4228 rockets were fired on Israel at the overall rate of almost 130 rockets a day Actually the rate averaged around 150 – 180 rockets per day for the first 10 days, with as many as 47 being fired in a single salvo. The rate peaked at 380 on 18 July and then dropped to an average of little over 100 a day towards the end Aug. In early Aug the rate began to climb again after a two days cease-fire, reached 250 rocket strikes on 13 Aug 06, the last day of the hostilities.56

Tactical High Energy Laser

One solution being explored to counter Free Rockets is the Tactical High Energy Laser. The Northrop Grumman Skyguard Land based air defence system was under trial. However, though it demonstrated its ability to intercept Katyushas, the IDF feels that the size of the chemical laser generator is too large, while the area coverage is very narrow. Thus it would require a huge amount of funding and is unaffordable for the present.57

Stunner/other Solutions

A short range Anti Ballistic Missile Interceptor (called Stunner) is being developed by Rafel and Raytheon (for intercepting low cost Ballistic Missiles and rockets with ranges from 40 – 200 km). Low cost radar controlled, high rate guns like Oerlikon Contraves are being examined as an interim solution. Another cheaper solution being examined is firing homing Rocket salvos against such incoming barrages of Free Rockets.58

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Maj Gen GD Bakshi, (Retd)

is a war Veteran and Strategic Analyst.

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