Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has recently developed a system intended to help regular armed forces to cope with decision making in asymmetrical warfare scenarios, which is the primary characteristic of most of the military confrontations currently taking place around the world. The system, designated Fire Weaver, produces a communication fabric that links together all of the elements on the battlefield – machines, weapon systems, and humans. Additionally, the system features a decision-making layer based on machine learning. "A human warfighter is incapable of processing the amount of data the battlefield generates during the time-critical interval of a target's lifecycle," explains Shmulik O., Head of the Innovation Programs Center at Rafael's Land Division.
"In a system demonstration held last month at Elyakim, the system reached a sensor-to-shooter loop closure interval of 17 seconds. The system closed the sensor-to-shooter loop between an observation post and the launching of a Gil (Spike) missile in 40 seconds. In comparison, during Operation Protective Edge, the average loop-closure interval of the IDF was a few minutes, which rendered the military irrelevant on the battlefield."
"The enemy facing us does not strive to establish contact"
The conceptual environment where the system was developed attempted to find a solution for the reduced lifecycle intervals of battlefield targets. Today, regular armed forces seldom face the armored columns of regular enemy forces. Instead, they face an individual or a small detachment whose objective is to execute a specific mission and withdraw. This calls for a different way of thinking. "The enemy facing us does not strive to establish contact," explains O., "He wants to execute the specific task assigned to him and disappear. His target lifecycle interval is a few seconds and he alternates smoothly and quickly between a military identity and a civilian one.
"Another important tier is the location where the military activity takes place. Most of the confrontations involving Israel take place in built-up and densely populated areas saturated with civilians. Technically, you are conducting combat operations without a line of sight, with inconsistent communication and very high sensitivity to collateral damage. This equation calls for accuracy."
In order to deal with this operational reality, the IDF realized that the solution should consist of integrated, combined arms operations. This change in the IDF, initiated a few years ago, cast every company commander in the role of a multiple-service commander who cooperates with the Air Force and the Navy. The synchronization of all fire sources requires a common language and decision-making support, to relieve the cognitive pressure exerted on the field commander during combat operations.
"There is a widespread sense of frustration among the men of the Ground Arm at the front, owing to their inability to fulfill their operational will in real time. Before an infantryman departs on a mission, they tell him that he will have the entire IDF behind him. But the minute he actually needs all of that backup, the people at the command center fail to understand what he wants," explains O. "Certain technological developments had matured and enabled the creation of the Fire Weaver system, which was intended to resolve this challenge."
With the Fire Weaver system, all of the entities on the battlefield share the same network, and all of them can generate a precise map reference using the same 3D format. Rafael implemented the capabilities of their Match Guide system for this purpose. The common map reference provides a common language anchor – everyone in the network sees the same pixel. Based on this common reality, the system provides additional information layers, like the positions of our own forces, the locations of the enemy forces, sensitive locating/spotting data and so forth. This sharing of information ensures full situational awareness at any point in the network. The shared battle picture reduces the sensor-to-shooter intervals.
Autonomous Sensor-to-Shooter Layout
"In addition to the information layers, we included a decision-making engine based on machine learning. We took the experience the Company gained from the air-defense systems and commander training systems we developed," says O. "In this way, each player uploads the target and the system will refine the optimal course of action based on the restrictions programmed into it in advance. The restrictions pertain to safety and economic aspects as well as to the operational aspect. This produces an alternative decision-making process to the one of the human commander, with the human element at the end deciding how much automation he/she wants. The system's computing power enables computation without any limitation regarding the number of targets.
"Where necessary, you can apply autonomous sensor-to-shooter loop closure. The system may also be adapted to a command process between multiple sensors and multiple shooters. As we designed the system for a multiple-service environment, it has an open architecture. In a demonstration to the IDF, the connected entities included a mortar system by Elbit Systems, a tank by MANTAK, a Rokhev-Shamayim (Skylark) UAV by Elbit Systems, a surveillance system by Asio Technologies, a Gil (Spike) missile by Rafael, and all of them shared the same network using a communication system by ELTA. We also connected various sensors by smaller manufacturers who work with IMOD's Directorate of Defense R&D (DDR&D, also known as MAFAT)."
Rafael developed the new system to enable connection of existing weapon systems. O. explains that armed forces around the world will not replace their weapon systems to employ the Fire Weaver system. Accordingly, Rafael developed a dedicated box and PCB kit whose function is to serve as an interface to the Fire Weaver system. "To connect to the system, you need the device as an interface and communication between the entities," adds O. "Without a battlefield communication infrastructure, the system will not function. The better the communication is adapted to a decentralized environment (mesh network), the better the system performance will be. To this day, we held a demonstration using a communication infrastructure by Motorola and ELTA, using our own BNet solution." At Rafael, they stress that the comparison between the Fire Weaver system and their C2 solution category is unrealistic. "This is a network-based strike system, not a C2 system," explains O. "You can include under the heading 'C2' any dialog between computer-based systems. We designed the Fire Weaver system as a strike system. The accuracy, the time constants, and the decision-making process are all adapted specifically to that role. This is a weapon system that links between the sensor and the shooter."
Taking Advantage of Chaos for your own Benefit
Asymmetrical warfare provides the enemy with an advantage – operating in a state of chaos. While regular armed forces operate according to structured procedures and a predetermined sequence of activities, a terrorist or guerrilla organization knows how to adapt to the chaotic situation on the battlefield. In order to cope with this advantage of the enemy, Rafael decided to adopt it. The Fire Weaver system can adapt quickly to the circumstances and create a new situation on the battlefield, as it renders the target's lifecycle interval irrelevant. The enemy's operational time constants are the time constants of the system's response. If the enemy changes his speed of response, the system will adapt and respond within the same time constant.
"The discussions concerning this system in the IDF are fascinating. The older generation of commanders wants to tighten their control as things become more complicated. The younger generation of commanders says just the opposite," explains O. "The more chaotic the battlefield becomes, the more we should allow technology to make the decisions. You determine in advance which decision loops you should authorize fully and for which loops the system should make the decisions automatically. It is an intergenerational discussion in the IDF. We, as an industry, removed ourselves from that discussion.
"Human cognition is incapable of accommodating the complexity of decision making on the modern battlefield. The Fire Weaver system can provide you, as a commander, with the optimal decision and you will pull the trigger. Alternately, you can allow the system to pull the trigger subject to conditions that you set in advance. All of the command echelons see the system's decision making loops in real time, transparently.
"The military world is advancing with systems that provide solutions to existing risks and produce new risks. In the Iron Dome system, a computer makes the decision to intercept. This new reality gives rise to new philosophical questions in the military context. On the battlefield, in the context of a chaotic wartime scenario, the decisions a human operator makes are inferior to decisions the computer makes. So, should we give it up because there is no one to blame? Should we stop employing the Iron Dome system? It is an on-going learning process, and computer systems, as well as humans, can make mistakes occasionally. The question is what risks are you willing to take vis-à-vis the challenges that exist on the battlefield.
"We are currently in the process of selling the system to several countries around the world. The discussion is the same discussion around the issue of decision-making autonomy. There is understanding regarding the operational needs. Everyone agrees that if you want to minimize collateral damage and save the lives of uninvolved parties, you will need accuracy in the context of an extremely fast-paced combat scenario. Most modern armed forces share the same problems and face the same challenges. Asymmetry in combat operations is expanding and intensifying, and technology reinstates the advantage to the regular armed forces. The race against the terrorist organizations will probably continue, but with the Fire Weaver system, life will be much more difficult for the other side."
(In the photo: Screenshot of the Fire Weaver system, courtesy of Rafael)