The Race for Datum Points

New systems to provide target datum points in the field at the click of a button. “It’s a dream come true”, says a senior IDF officer

The Race for Datum Points

Seeking for datum points (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)

It could happen during another war between Israel and Hezbollah: the commander of a paratrooper company will be standing in front of a house in Southern Lebanon and he’ll identify a fire directed at his forces from inside a room of a threestory building. He’ll immediately locate the house on an aerial photography, on the screen of a portable computer, mark the specific room on the photography, click the mouse, and a 12 digit datum point will be displayed. The officer will pass the datum point of the room to an air force helicopter or a squad equipped with precision missiles, and the room will be attacked with precision munitions within seconds.

In the past, this seemingly simple scenario was ascribed to the realm of the imagination, by military personnel who were familiar with the complexity of obtaining precise datum points without advanced measuring equipment (Maps and photos often contain a “distortion” between what’s marked on them and the real situation in the field). However, this scenario is no longer a fantasy: following a goal set by the IDF to acquire capabilities that allow soldiers to “speak the datum point language”, a number of Israeli security companies have been working overtime to close the technological gaps before the realization of this capability. At the same time, the Computer Services Directorate in the general staff is preparing a computerized infrastructure that will allow forces from different branches to speak a language that defines unified datum points.

The development of measures that create a uniform “datum point language” has been accelerated, following an exercise in which the theoretical capability was tested. During the exercise, soldiers of the Northern Command’s elite, “Egoz” unit, were instructed to locate twenty targets in the field via a portable computer. Afterwards it was discovered that nineteen of the datum points were accurate to a pinpoint. “This achievement, obtaining nineteen precise targets out of twenty, is like a dream come true”, says a senior IDF officer in reference to the results of the exercise, which also served as a test. “Our wish to speak the datum point ‘language’ stems from the nature of combat in urban environments. The need to reach a precise datum point is essential in every arena, but is especially crucial in a built-up area, in order to avoid injuring innocent bystanders as much as possible”.

IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) and Elbit Systems, which operate the Digital Army Program (DAP) command and control system in the ground forces , are among the companies developing systems that will assist the IDF in speaking the “datum point language”. Elbit has also recently unveiled a system called “S-NAV” that provides infantry soldiers with continuous follow-up three-dimensional pinpointing, even in areas lacking GPS capability or when the mission requires particularly covert operations. The system, the size of a cellular phone (weighing only 155 grams) is carried by the individual soldier, and operates continuously, even during strenuous activities, such as shooting and jumping.

Employing advanced algorithms, the system locates the soldier’s position by measuring his steps, speed of progression, and distance. In addition, the system can identify the height of the area, where the soldier is situated, and changes in height, if, for example, the soldier goes up and down the stairs in a building.

Meanwhile, elements within the IDF’s C4I Corps and Teleprocessing Branch acknowledge that the branch is working on an infrastructure that enables the conversion of operational maps of the ground forces, air force, navy, operations branch and military intelligence into a “unified datum point language”.

The process will establish a unified target bank for the IDF. Until now each branch used various computing methods that represented the planet on a two-dimensional plane. Sometimes even different layouts in the same branch, such as the air force’s fighter and helicopter layouts, employed different methods for calculating datum points. When the transition to a unified target repository is completed, all the forces and units will be able to receive data for geographic datum points, based on the same computational infrastructure.

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