Officers in the U.S. Army have long envied the “short drive” they claim the Israel Defense Forces has to reach its front lines, bemoaning the tyranny of distance when deploying to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Having relatively short distances to go when meeting a threat means that the IDF is able to go in hard and heavy without the vicious logistics tail that accompanies American operations, making the problem of repair and maintenance a matter of days rather than weeks.
A glance at the slow, expensive withdrawal from Afghanistan illustrates the point perfectly. The Army says that the eye-watering cost of flying or floating home the $28 billion in gear it has in the country makes leaving some behind a matter of necessity. As a result, only about $22 billion worth of equipment will go home by the end of 2014. The situation is so desperate that the Army is literally shredding — in giant industrial-sized shredders shipped to Afghanistan — about 2,000 of its hulking Mine Resistant Ambush Protected infantry carriers before it leaves.
For reference, those MRAPs cost between $500,000 and $1 million apiece, and the oldest ones in America’s arsenal were built in 2008.
Make no mistake, the Army isn’t doing this because it has money to burn. It’s doing so because the money is drying up, and bean counters found that in the end it’s simply cheaper to eat the cost of destroying 2,000 vehicles in the Hindu Kush than it is to bring them home.
But while the IDF and the Army exist in different worlds when it comes to the logistic struggles they have to surmount when fighting their wars, they have been newly united in their need to rather quickly meet fresh challenges: reducing manpower, reducing (relative) firepower and reducing their budgets. And fast.
As a result of political pressures in both Washington and Jerusalem to curtail costs, both ground forces are betting their futures on a smaller, lighter, more technically capable power that will need to do everything from fighting terrorists to facing off against other states, and do it with fewer soldiers.
In July, the Israeli military presented its plans to cut 1.5 billion shekels from its 40 billion shekel budget by 2014, followed by another 3 billion shekel cut in 2014, with the ground forces slated to take the brunt of the cuts — the same kind of changes that have become all but a fait accompli for the U.S. Army.