The CH-53K and Transformation of the USMC and the IDF


By Robbin Laird

The CH-53K comes into the USMC and into the Israeli Defence Force as both are in the process of transformation.

The two forces are on different transformation paths with different adversaries as focal points, but this platform is coming to both forces as they are working new ways to operate and evolving their concepts of operations.

And the two forces clearly interact with one another and will certainly cross-learn thereby taking lessons being learned about using the new aircraft as they shape their evolving concepts of operations approaches.

Last year, I did an interview with a Marine who indeed spent time in Israel training with the IDF. And notably, this Marine was working directly on the USMC transformation process. This is what I have written in my new book on the USMC transformation path about our conversation.

“II Marine Expeditionary Force supports service and Combatant Commander’s initiative as required. At the same time, II MEF is in transition and must focus on preparing for future operations and shape new ways to do so while being able to operate now. This is hardly an easy challenge, but one which II MEF must meet head-on. At the command, the head of G-35, Future Operations is Colonel Ryan Hoyle.

“He noted in our discussion that for the command, a look ahead in an 18-to-24-month period is the focus of future operations.

‘But as we discussed, the focus on change was coming through exercises but also working ways to rework the Marines’ ability to integrate with the Navy and with allies to shape evolving capabilities for the future fight. His background is diverse, and very impressive. I mention this because if you want someone to work through how to work a way ahead with the force in being, it is clearly an advantage to have someone with wide-ranging experience with the current force and enough experience in working with non-Marine joint and allied forces focused on change. Among other experiences, he has been aide to camp to the Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, Amphibious Staff Officer and exercise planner at NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters.

“And he has a Master of Science in Political Science from the Israel National Defense College. There is probably no force in the world which has work joint integration in a more challenging political and military environment than the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). He brings this experience to the current challenging task of transitioning and preparing for the future fight while reshaping the force in being. How do you do this? And how is II MEF approaching this challenge?

“The Israelis provide an interesting case because post–Abraham Accords, they are focusing on their ability to have a strategic reach to be able to deal with threats on their periphery. It is no surprise than that the IDF is operating a core USMC capability, the F-35, and are adding the latest capability, namely, the CH-53K. The IDF is increasingly focused on becoming more mobile and expeditionary, which brings them closer to the USMC trajectory of change as well.”

For the Marines, the CH-53K will be a key element for working mobile basing for the expeditionary force, a focus of my series on mobile basing as a strategic capability and the subject in progress.

For the IDF, the flexibility of the CH-53K is clearly important and part of their working an enhanced combat capability for distributed operating teams as well.

The ability of the CH-53K as a digital aircraft to manage data in the context of operations and operate either as a provider of information or a user of information is crucial to what the IDF is looking for in its focus on a force which can deploy in a distributed manner but be integratable through C2 and ISR systems or what we have focused on as kill web enabled concepts of operations.

Ed Timperlake and I have focused on these concepts of operations in our forthcoming book entitled Maritime Kill Webs: Deterrence and Warfighting in the 21st Century.

In his assessment of the transformation of the IDF, Avi Jager quoted Benny Gantaz, then serving as Israel’s alternative prime minister with regard to that transformation:

“[T]he purpose of [these changes] was to create a smaller yet deadlier army, capable of confronting non-state adversaries in complex environments and on multiple fronts. . . . The ability to be a smaller yet deadlier military depends primarily on the ability to obtain accurate intelligence, process and analyze it effectively, and transfer it to the combat forces in real time.”

Jager went on to underscore that the focus of the transformation was away from countering direct adversary occupation threats to Israel to countering specific adversary threats wherever there are located in the broader perimeter of the air-ground-maritime environment of Israel.

As he noted: “The IDF’s missions no longer were to occupy vast adversary-state territory but, instead, to gain operational control over geographically limited hostile areas and eliminate localized threats….” This led to establishing brigades as independent battle groups instead of operating as division-sized formations.

He added that “The driving forces behind these changes were fire support. To allow better control and coordination between the different battalions, groundbreaking innovations in military each brigade battle group was technology. given its own command-and- control headquarters. These headquarters were in continuous communication with other field forces, as well as with parallel forces and the senior commander. Brigades were now responsible for managing their own logistics, rearmament, and tactical extractions.”[1]

These changes were made starting in 2011 to deal with the dispersed threats from the Hezbollah and Hamas.

Now innovations enhancing the combat power of a CH-53K enabled force package can draw directly on the C2/ISR capabilities of the F-35 as well upon the capabilities over time for the CH-53K to evolve its ability to work with various autonomous systems and weapons through its onboard digital management capabilities.

And the ability of the aircraft to manage itself with the significant automation onboard allows the flight crew to take on broader tasks of mission management, rather simply being spending much of your cognitive capabilities on simply operating the aircraft effectively and safely.

This is especially important given the key role reserves play in the IDF. With the shorten training cycle to operate the K versus the legacy CH-53 and the ability to learn the new capabilities delivered by the aircraft through software upgrades on the new simulators, the reserve force becomes much more rapidly a frontline capability for the IDF.

And given the twin impacts of the Abraham Accords and the evolution of the Iranian threat, an ability to move combat formations to specific areas of interest rapidly is of increasing significance.

With the Abraham Accords, the IDF has more potential locations from which to operate, and that, in turn means, that they need to move support for an insertion force, as they will have to use General Carlisle’s famous phrase, “places not bases” from which to operate.

And with the growing threat from Iran, not only are they facing a diverse range of operating bases for missiles, and the potential for marrying that to a nuclear payload, but the Iranians operate through surrogates all around the periphery of Israel. And air strikes are not always the most effective means to eliminate pockets of Iranian operational capabilities.

In short, the CH-53K will both benefit from the USMC and IDF transformation processes and contribute to them.

And both experiences can be significant for the German military as Germany deals with the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on its own defense and its ability to move force to deal with its proximate neighbors most threatened by direct Russian actions in the future.

Note: A February 28, 2022 posting, on the Israeli Air Force Facebook page. noted the visit of USMC Deputy Commandant of Aviation, Lt. General Mark Wise to Israel.

“U.S. Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Lt. Gen. Mark R. Wise visited Tel Nof AFB today as part of his visit to Israel hosted by IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin.

“The two commanders spoke about regional operational challenges, cooperation and knowledge-sharing in the field of F-35 aircraft, and discussed cooperation regarding the future integration of CH-53K transport helicopters in both forces.”

[1] Avi Jager, “The Transformation of the Israeli Defense Forces,” Naval War College Review,” (Vol 74 (2021), No. 2.

The USMC Transformation Path: Preparing for the High-End Fight