Digitizing the Battlefield

The significant changes in warfare have made the role of the soldier on the ground more complex. This reality compels the defense industries to develop resources that would make life easier for military forces. For this purpose, Rafael established an innovation program center intended to adapt the company's products to the world of network-centric warfare


Photo: By Refael

The ever-changing battlefield compels the defense industries to adapt themselves to the requirements of their clients. In order to deal with the frequent changes of the battlefield, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems established an innovation program center intended to adapt the company's products to the world of network-centric warfare. Heading the center is Brig. Gen. (res.) Shmuel Olanski, formerly the IDF Chief Armored Corps Officer, who currently serves as Head of Rafael's Land Innovation Directorate.

"Today's battlefield presents new challenges," explains Olanski. "Along with the usual primary platforms, the most common targets in today's combat operations are one or two individual terrorists coming to launch a missile or detonate an explosive charge – and disappear, rather than divisions or brigades that come to dominate territory. The implication is that the life cycle of the target and its physical size are variable. The primary challenge is finding the enemy. Current and future combat operations will probably take place in urban areas like towns or villages. The implication is that you have to cope with limited lines of sight, communication jamming, collateral damage, and so on."

As combat operations grow more complex, the complexity facing the soldier operating the resources at his disposal increases as well. Today's platoon and company commanders are required to operate an extensive range of resources while having received limited technical/professional training, within a very short time. This makes decision-making on the ground very dramatic for today's commanders. "In order to cope with this reality, one of the things we did as a basic measure was link everyone to the same network. In this way, the commander has access to an extensive range of resources, many of which do not belong to his command," explains Olanski.


The Missile Communicates with the Binoculars

At Rafael they rely on their BNet system, developed by their C4I Administration, for communication. The advanced IP MANET (Mobile Ad-hoc Network) SDR (Software Defined Radio) was designed to support military maneuvers involving thousands of soldiers, with each entity – human or other (vehicle, weapon system) – constituting a node in the network. The BNet can also provide cognitive radio capabilities, namely – the radio transceiver is aware of which frequencies are free and which are busy within a split second, and decides how to transmit the data with no human involvement.

"We can take all of the weapon system types developed by Rafael, new or old, and establish a connection between them. The missile can talk to the binoculars, the radar, or the drone in a more significant manner," explains Olanski. "The first tier is connecting everyone through a common language. The second tier is providing added value through artificial intelligence. The objective is to replace the human mind in all of the tasks where human involvement is not necessary," says Olanski.


Improve the Soldier's Decision-Making Process

One of Rafael's goals is to improve the decision-making process on the battlefield through technological innovation. When a soldier has to make dozens of decisions continuously, each one within a split second, the effectiveness of these decisions can be improved by using a computer-based decision support system. "Using algorithms for better decision-making," as Olanski defines it. "There is a realization throughout the defense world that global technology has matured with regard to autonomous combat capabilities. It is a process. We can start executing some of the operations on the basis of this technology."

One of the projects in which Rafael participates is the Carmel technology demonstrator. This project started a few years ago under a dedicated administration within the Israel Ministry of Defense, which asked the defense industries to check whether it would be possible to operate a ground combat platform with a crew of two and with the operators remaining within the turret ("heads in"). "We realized back then that this would make it possible to dramatically change the development, manufacturing, and maintenance costs of the IDF's armored combat vehicles. The first challenge involves the ability to operate an armored combat vehicle with the crewmembers remaining inside. We opted for a technology that relies on a cabin with an abundance of computer display screens, and a panoramic picture assembled from the input of external sensors. Additional layers of data may be superimposed on the picture of the external reality visible on the display screens," says Olanski.

"We realized that the driving task takes about 85% of the human operator's attention. If one of the two crewmembers has to drive the vehicle, the result will be unreasonable. So we taught the system to drive. According to the culture and relief in the enemy territory, the vehicle can plan its scan program, and the driver will move the sensors according to the locations of the enemy elements. It is a combination of computer-based vision capabilities and independent enemy spotting capabilities. The system searches and finds the enemy elements. Whether the enemy target should be eliminated remains a decision to be made by the human element. A target that does not pose an immediate risk – the human element should decide what to do with it. Will the demand for a human element in the loop still be valid in a decade? I am not sure."

In order to enable the platform to deal with immediate threats, Rafael taught the command and control system how to close a fire loop. At Rafael, they regard this capability as an autonomous crewmember. "We taught the autonomous crewmember to close a fire loop. It can replace the human crewmembers in making decisions and operating the relevant systems. Initially, the objective is to implement a tank brigade with a crew of two in each tank. Subsequently, we will have an autonomous tank that controls several unmanned tanks. Along the way, we will have intermediate technological stops," Olanski reveals. "To manufacture an armored combat vehicle with a crew of two human operators and a virtual crewmember is a process we can already implement, and the platform will be more effective than the existing platforms."


The Tanks of Generation Z

Another aspect of the technological change is the intergenerational difference regarding the use of technology. At Rafael they explain that a high degree of correlation may be found between the age of the person and his/her response to cutting-edge systems. "The previous generation thinks that as complexity increases, the human element should take the reins into its hands. The younger generation looks at things differently. They have more confidence in computer systems. They understand that there are things only a computer is capable of, instead of the human element," a Rafael official explained.

In this context, one of the primary questions is how a vehicle of this type will behave under conditions of uncertainty. In fact, how do you guarantee certainty regarding the behavior of this vehicle? "Do we have an answer to every question regarding the future armored combat vehicles? Probably not. Should something that has no solution prevent the implementation of the technology? Probably not. One of the ways to deal with these questions is mesh configuration, secure wideband communication. It is a basic precondition for these capabilities. The issue of security against jamming of the GPS elements of weapon systems is also being handled, along with the cyber aspect. The maintenance aspect will also undergo a reform. We want a platform that would perform some of the maintenance operations on its own," reveals Olanski.

Another system currently being developed by Rafael under the name "Fire Weaver" enables a common language between humans and weapon systems. "Someone pin-points a map reference and the ordnance is delivered. The target may be a building, a window in a house, a vehicle, or a person. Any element connected to the network can see on the monitor what has been pin-pointed, subject to access/classification restrictions," explains Olanski. "We can produce an accurate map reference for any point, worldwide, and it saves time when specifying where the target is. On the same screen, we can display all of the necessary information – enemy forces, our own forces, and mission-sensitive spotting. Every operator gets only the data he/she needs in order to avoid excess information. We included safety rules in the calculating process, as well as a battlefield scale of priorities – who gets precedence for the data, according to the situation on the ground."

On the basis of the Fire Weaver system, algorithms may be implemented to make decisions regarding suitable weapon systems within the formation. Simplified – the soldier on the ground identifies a threat, pin-points the target, and ordnance is delivered. Which ordnance? That is a system consideration of the Fire Weaver. The decision takes into consideration a host of parameters, including the cost/effectiveness ratio, on-hand inventory, collateral damage, and more. The soldier at the endpoint has no access to these parameters and he cannot perform the weighting calculation during the target life cycle.

"The officer determines the rules of operation for a given weapon system in advance within the specific formation or area. He can also determine the degree of autonomy. For example, for a given neighborhood, he can specify a fully autonomous operation. For another neighborhood, he can specify that any employment of weaponry should be subject to the decision of the battalion commander. For a third neighborhood, he can specify that only precision-guided munitions should be employed and no statistical weapons. Wherever the rules were determined, no commander's approval for execution will be required," says Olanski.


The Weapon System as a Network Player

In order to calibrate the Fire Weaver system, Rafael developed a simulation environment for testing systems under operational conditions. "The arms race will never end," they explain at Rafael. "While you are investing in a solution, the enemy facing you is changing. Simulators help you calibrate the system and also deal with some of the questions that arise regarding autonomous platforms of this type."

As far as procurement is concerned, they explain at Rafael that the Fire Weaver system does not require the military organization to change any existing weapon system interfaces, as it adds new capabilities. "When we installed the Fire Weaver system in the IDF, we integrated existing platforms and existing systems. We provided the operator with additional capabilities. No one wants to replace interfaces. What we want is to take an existing weapon system while presenting a minimum threshold of preconditions, and connect it to a system that would provide a better solution. The objective is to link the weapon system as a player in the network," explains Olanski.

"We were presented with a demand to issue the required standard for connecting to the Fire Weaver system. The challenge we face is to check and verify that we are compatible with existing standards used by military organizations around the world. New standards may evolve in the future for systems of this category. The story is not about the individual platform, but rather about a system made up of several platforms. The Fire Weaver system, along with the BNet system, can take a military organization to the next generation of managing the elements of the battlefield in combined arms combat operations."


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