"C4I is Shaping the Operational Reality"

Exclusive interview with the commander of the Lotem Unit at the IDF C4I Directorate, Brig. Gen. Danny Bren, about all the development trends associated with computers and communication in the IDF

Brig. Gen. Danny Bren (Photo: Meir Azulay)

"To a considerable extent, Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014 was the world’s first significant C4I warfare campaign,” says Brig. Gen. Danny Bren, commander of the Lotem Unit at the IDF C4I Directorate.

Lotem is the IDF’s largest technological unit, and Brig. Gen. Bren looks at things through a time perspective: about a year and a half ago he started leading a revolution in the C4I activities of IDF, which would reach its peak in 2015. Among other things, the Lotem Unit is responsible for providing the entire military with uniform C4I systems, including command and control (C2) systems capable of linking the air, sea and land arms, as well as for such activities as IDF encryption (in the past, Bren commanded the prestigious encryption and information security unit designated MATSOV) and IDF cyber warfare defense (in his previous capacity, Bren established the IDF cyber warfare defense department. The offensive aspects of cyber warfare are the responsibility of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate). The Lotem Unit includes the prestigious computer unit of the IDF, MAMRAM, and many other computer and communication elements.

“In March 2013, when I entered office, our primary insight was that reality was going to change dramatically with regard to any dimension we could think of,” says Brig. Gen. Bren. “We realized that the change will begin with the economic aspect, namely – from a reduction in C4I costs, and extend as far as the changing of the enemy, namely – regular military organizations will continue to disappear and the bulk of our operations will be conducted opposite local and global organizations.

“For example, if you examine the learning curve of Hamas since Operation Cast Lead (2009) through Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) to Operation Protective Edge of last summer, you will notice a development that leads to the shifting of the campaign into our own territory, either through naval, aerial or subterranean operations. All of this compels us to engage in several processes under the general heading of ‘changing’. It necessitates the involvement of all military forces based on a shared situational awareness, namely – to get the capabilities of the ground, the naval and the aerial warfighter into the same area cell and cooperate.”

According to Bren, in addition to the fact that Operation Protective Edge was the world’s first significant C4I warfare campaign, “the main difference of C4I is not just the ability to execute faster processes, but our ability to adapt the relevant intelligence to the user, through commercial technology and ideas thought up in the commercial world. Just like in civilian life the contents you and I will receive when we surf the web could be different, based on our surfing history and other parameters, so, in military systems we need to adapt the information to the specific user.

“I can tell you that we have already developed preliminary but highly significant capabilities in this content world and these capabilities were reflected quite effectively during Operation Protective Edge, at the lower end of the chain of command as well as at the higher echelons.”

So can we say that C4I systems are no longer just a pipeline that conveys the information?

“C4I is no longer a pipeline and has evolved into an influential factor, as a supporting and assisting tool. All of this comes under a heading known in the military or civilian jargon as ‘Data Analytics’ or ‘Big Data’. There is an operational problem that evolves at an insane pace. While about a decade ago we operated through highly structured processes opposite major companies and with substantial blocks in order to adapt the systems to every change, now things are done differently.

“Generally, the last decade has taken us from ‘IDF on the Web’ to ‘Network IDF’. We are the first military organization in the world that has such comprehensive C3 systems as ‘Tirat Ha’Agam’, ‘Ma’agal Ha’Esh’ and other similar systems. How did we operate in the past? We went through a round of fighting, drew the lessons from it and then went on to develop, design and assimilate the next block. According to this method, we needed a period of up to eighteen months to issue a new version. Meanwhile, the enemy would change even further. We realized that if we want to remain relevant, we must change the time constants of the revisions, and so the development of C4I systems was brought back home.”

According to Brig. Gen. Danny Bren, “In January 2015 we will begin using the first version of the C4I system for the GHQ and inter-service level, which is based on commercial technology, nearly open code and a lot of ‘look and feel’ of what we are familiar with from the civilian world, from technologies such as Facebook and Google. Consequently, the assimilation element is going to be simplified. The next generation of ‘Tirat Ha’Agam’ is based entirely on our own development. It cost us a lot less money compared to systems we had acquired in the past, but we must be fair – we actually hitched a ride on commercial knowledge.”

Do you mean to say that you built the system on the basis of open code?

“Yes. We relied on open source extensively. We departed from channel-based databases to big, open databases. Consequently, we are about to kick off 2015 with a different C4I military. Once we decided that we should enter the world of operational information, we established, eighteen months ago, several elements that operated along the lines of a start-up company. One of them was designated ‘Operational Information Studies’ and attempted to determine how we can, through research, gain operational insights. This ability, too, was incorporated into the C4I systems.”

Do you focus on the application level or on the infrastructure?

“The infrastructure will be there, but the focus is on providing a prompt solution to an operational problem.”

In the past, the IDF C4I Directorate was conceived as an infrastructure element

“Today, we are a service element providing solutions to GHQ level. For example, we have built over an Intranet infrastructure a pool of applications for use by all of the elements of IDF. Another example: if you want video services from a UAV, you should go to the application store, download the appropriate service and load it into your system.”

The operational output of C4I should, first and foremost, be the employment of fire. How were those technological improvements reflected in the employment of fire during Operation Protective Edge?

“Without going into numbers, the last decade, since the introduction of the previous version of the ‘Tirat Ha’Agam’ system, led to a hundreds-of-percent increase in fire throughput. You cannot grow using the same system, so we introduced the change that was intended to raise the glass ceiling. The smart thing to do is to generate effective throughput opposite the enemy as well as to inquire – where, how much has been fired and at what targets. Then, we try to reevaluate what the next day would look like.”

I thought the basic concept of “Network IDF” had to do with the option of attacking a specific target in real time

“’Network IDF’ has already solved the issue you described. The smart thing is to make it mobile, just like in the civilian world everything is mobile – from calling a taxi to a certain location to countless other operations. Additionally, the quantum leap in the military will involve the ability to receive the information with relevant remarks. We are more or less there".

Brig. Gen. Danny Bren says further that “In order to improve the understanding of the friction with the enemy among our people, during 2013-14 I selected ten of my officers from the Lotem Unit and arranged with the commander of one of the IDF’s leading divisions that he would take them in as warfighters. For a period of one week, they served as warfighters to all intents and purposes. Another activity we hold regularly involves one of the IDF’s elite units that we adopted. We accompany them technologically and fulfill their needs from one moment to the next. One side presents a technological problem and the other side presents an operational problem.”

How do you aim for the effective utilization of the information available on the web?

“The first primary process that should change is to set up a syphon rather than a filtration mechanism. Thus far we have been a pipeline. A syphon will let some of the information through while keeping the rest.

“In fact, you set up a very large database and the same processes being run in the civilian commercial world are being run on the information available to me to solve operational problems. This produces focused information that is relevant to the problem at hand. These are multidisciplinary analytics. Analytics is a concept – not a product. My people develop the analytical algorithms and some are based on civilian solutions”.

Does the physical C4I infrastructure of the IDF also lag behind the civilian world?

“Yes and no. Like everything else, it depends on the question of where.

“In any case, we are currently looking at the first cloud computing project of the IDF. This is not associated with any other processes. In 2015, the IDF will have cloud computing in order to provide all of the goodies available in the civilian world just a key click away, and in order for us to be able to build additional systems. This is a process we are leading through a service-level perspective. Changing the IT infrastructures of the IDF. Change into a single cloud, a single space and state-of-the-art services. I want to produce the ability to consume infrastructures elastically; wider bandwidths. After all, what is cloud computing? They took IT and converted it to C4I for the masses. The more we delay our journey to the cloud – the more we will miss the amazing technological developments and continue to pay huge amounts of money to the IT barons. I want to be more advanced in my capabilities and so forth.

“Considering the issue of cyber warfare, you must be extremely careful with what you do and with what you pick up and connect to.”

On the philosophical level, don’t you think that the C4I processes flatten the military hierarchy?

“There is no other way to cope with today’s reality.”

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