Mideast Drone Wars
Oct 15, 2021 | AIJAC staff
Update from AIJAC
This Update is devoted to analysis of the escalating unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or “drone”) threat across the Middle East, emanating primarily from Iran and its proxies, and how regional nations are responding. It also contains a related piece on the efforts of Israel’s IDF to prepare for the hi-tech battlefield of the future, including drones but also other important new military technologies.
First up is Seth Frantzman, Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Post, who summarises all the latest information coming out about the Iranian drone program, and those of Iran’s proxies. He notes that, unlike Iran’s nuclear program, there is little effort to hide Iran’s growing drone prowess – especially in the wake of a major attack on Saudi oil facilities in 2019. But he suggests these capabilities are not war-winning ones for the Iranians, and discusses how other nations are preparing to meet this threat. To read Frantzman’s discussion, CLICK HERE.
Next up is a Wall Street Journal report which details how Iran built its growing drone capabilities – mostly through a combination of importing commercial drone components and copying foreign military drones the Iranians had captured. The article also quotes some military experts warning that Iran is getting bolder with its use of drones and the world is not very well prepared to meet this threat. For all the details, CLICK HERE.
Finally, we offer readers a fascinating look at how Israel’s IDF is preparing for future battlefields using technology that sounds like something out of a science fiction film. It deals with the newest generations of drones, but also several other technologies being developed or deployed that will make information the key to dominating the field of battle. The reporter who wrote it, Hanan Greenwood, was the first-ever able to visit the labs of Elbit Systems, perhaps Israel’s most innovative company producing hi-tech military equipment, and was able to report on some of its upcoming innovative products. To read this report on some amazing technological developments, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in…
- A new report on Iran’s use of UAVs to project its power across the region from an exiled Iranian opposition group. A news story on the report’s finding is here.
- An excellent opinion piece recommending a strategy for the Biden Administration for dealing with Iran’s escalating nuclear program, from foreign policy experts Richard Goldberg and Jacob Nagel.
- A report arguing that a return to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran is now no longer feasible, by policy analysts James Phillips and Peter Brookes.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s “Fresh AIR” blog:
- AIJAC’s statement welcoming PM Scott Morrison’s announcement of an Australian Federal Government decision to embrace the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism earlier this week.
- AIJAC statement on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s recommendation that the Australian Government considers listing all of Hamas as a terrorist entity.
- Naomi Levin on why Europe’s ambitious new strategy to counter antisemitism appears so impressive.
- Oved Lobel details why everything most people think they know about the war in Yemen is wrong.
- AIJAC’s recent webinar discussing the ongoing detrimental effects of the UN’s 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism – which was marred by widespread antisemitism – featuring two participants in Durban, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and Canadian human rights campaigner Dr. Karen Mock.
- A written summary of the Cotler-Mock webinar is available on J-wire. A short video excerpt featuring Cotler explaining the IHRA definition is available here.
- Tzvi Fleischer and Allon Lee had a piece in the Australian Jewish Newsresponding to the claims in a recent booklet attacking AIJAC and the “Israel Lobby” published by senior ABC News Executive John Lyons. Also, AIJAC’s statement on Lyons’ booklet is here.
- In addition, Jamie Hyams has identified an egregious misrepresentation of an AIJAC email by Lyons in the booklet. Plus, another critique of Lyons comes from veteran media commentator Gerard Henderson.
The world is waking up to Iran’s drone threat
Iran’s drone program, unlike its nuclear weapons program, is not secretive. The Islamic Republic openly brags about its drone capabilities.
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Jerusalem Post, OCT. 7, 2021
Iranian drones on display at a 2014 defence expo (Photo: Fars Media Corporation, creative commons licence)
Iranian drones are an emerging threat to the Middle East. In 2019, Iran used a combination of drones and cruise missiles to attack the giant Abqaiq oil-processing facility in Saudi Arabia, using precision strikes to send a message that Iran’s drones could not strike at will across the region and destabilize economies and countries.
Now Iran’s drones are again in the spotlight, following reports by The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and other media.
Iran’s drones are reshaping the security situation in the region, the Journal reported. It cited the July attack on a tanker in the Gulf of Oman that killed two crew members. Iran has trafficked drone technology to Hamas in Gaza, and in its May war with Israel, Hamas used Iranian-style drones for the first time, the report said.
Fox cited reports by Iranian dissidents that Iran would use drones to destabilize the region.
Iran might target Al-Harir base in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, where US forces are allegedly present, The National Interest magazine reported. The report cited Iranian attacks on dissident groups in the Kurdistan region. Iran has used drones to target US forces in Erbil and also against dissidents.
Iran’s drone program, unlike its nuclear-weapons program, is not secretive. The Islamic Republic openly brags about its drone capabilities. It highlights every new drone and makes outrageous claims about their capabilities. Iran has claimed its drones can fly thousands of kilometers and that it has the ability to arm some of them with missiles.
What we know is that Iranian drones can carry out precision attacks when they are preprogrammed with a set of coordinates. They can wreak havoc, but they are not a weapon that wins wars.
Iran’s drones can attack military parades, airports, oil facilities and tankers. Tehran reportedly used a drone to target a CIA hangar at Erbil’s airport, The Washington Post reported in April. That means Iran’s real asset is its intelligence about where to attack. The drones themselves are interesting because they can be transported or assembled in different places.
FOR INSTANCE, Iran has based drones at T-4 base in Syria and used them to target Israel in February 2018 and this past May. It has provided drone-making technology to the Houthis in Yemen and has downed US drones and copied Israeli drones.
This allows Iran to traffic the technology and have plausible deniability about the use of the drones. This is because they can pretend the drones being used to attack the US in Iraq – or tankers off the coast of Yemen, or to attack Israel from Syria and Iraq – may be drones flown by proxies, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis or Hashd al-Shaabi.
Although this gives Iran leverage in the region, it doesn’t give it a strategic win; rather, it’s a way to tactically harass its enemies and then hide behind a smoke screen. This is the Iranian way of war these days, and the drones are simply a symptom and a tactic they have adopted, which extends their long arm.
Iran already perfected the use of terrorism, extending its long arm to kill dissidents in Europe and attack US, Israeli, Jewish and other targets around the world. The drones are a new technology Iran is using in a specifically Iranian way: No other country uses drones like this.
Increased attention is now being put on the Iranian drones, indicating that Iran is no longer able to fly under the radar with these systems. The question that should be asked is what comes next for Iran’s plethora of drones?
The drones come in family groups, such as the Ababil, Mohajer and Shahed classes. These range in capabilities from surveillance drones to those that can fly thousands of kilometers. Some of them are kamikaze drones, while others return to base.
Iran has now sent large numbers of drones to its allies in the region, including the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. It also seeks to export some abroad, including to Venezuela, for example. It is also now basing them at sea, putting them on its Navy ships and IRGC fast boats.
The drones sometimes behave more like cruise missiles, slamming into a target and self-destructing. That gives them plausible deniability and a kind of ability to strike through air defenses and radar by using potential swarm attacks of large numbers of drones.
Iran has shown proficiency in getting around Saudi and US air defenses in some cases. Israel has used Iron Dome and missiles fired from aircraft and helicopters to shoot down the relatively slow drones.
The 2019 Iranian drone and cruise missile attack on two Saudi oil refineries woke up regimes across the region to the growing drone threat from Iran (Photo: Public domain)
THE FULL picture of what comes next has not emerged. After the 2019 attack, there were concerns that Iran had stumbled upon a kind of drone “Pearl Harbor” in the region, and many air-defense systems were updated to deal with drone threats. But there are not enough radar and air-defense systems around the region to defend everything.
That is why the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel and others must concentrate on defending key strategic areas. For Israel, a small country, the challenge is not as great. But drones can strike at tankers and also natural-gas sites.
That means they can strike almost anywhere. Iran had moved drones to Yemen that could strike as far as Eilat, Newsweek reported in January.
That threat has not fully emerged, but the recent reports indicate the region is taking the Iran drone threat seriously. Luckily for those who study this, Iran is not trying to hide its drones. It openly parades them by the dozens, and its allies in Iraq also put them on trucks to display in military parades.
Iran’s capabilities are known. The question is whether its adversaries will put in place enough missiles, radar systems and guns to down the drones in the future or predict where Iran’s next target may be.
Seth J. Frantzman is Senior Middle East Correspondent and Middle East affairs analyst at The Jerusalem Post.
Iran’s Armed-Drone Prowess Reshapes Security in Middle East
Tehran uses off-the-shelf components to build armed drones used in attacks that challenge the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East
By Benoit Faucon and Dion Nissenbaum
Wall Street Journal, Oct. 6, 2021
A relatively primitive Iranian Ababil-B UAV being launched during exercises in 2006. Iran has made major advances since that time – often by copying commercial or captured foreign UAVs. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons | License details).
A deadly attack on an oil tanker by explosive-laden drones. Unmanned aircraft launched from the Gaza Strip hitting Israeli neighborhoods. Strikes on Saudi Arabian refineries and pipelines and on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq.
Behind this wave of attacks, U.S., European and Israeli defense officials say: Iran and its allies across the Middle East. They say Tehran’s rapidly developing ability to build and deploy drones is changing the security equation in a region already on edge.
The drones themselves are often made with widely available components used in the ever-growing commercial drone market and by hobbyists, the officials say. Some mimic the designs of Israeli and American military drones.
“Developing a nuclear weapon would take years. With drones, just a few months,” an Iranian official told The Wall Street Journal. “Drones have changed the balance of power in the Middle East.”
Iran’s delegation at the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment on accusations that the country is behind the wave of drone attacks.
For decades, armed drones were almost exclusively the preserve of advanced militaries such as those of the U.S. and Israel. More recently, Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has made significant strides in developing effective, low-cost drones.
Tehran’s engineers rely on imported components to create aerial vehicles that can accurately strike targets at long distance and rapidly change direction to avoid air defenses and radar, say European and Middle Eastern security officials who have studied wreckages of the drones.
These officials also say Iran and its allies are stepping up attacks. On Sept. 13, Iran-aligned forces in Yemen targeted the city of Jazan in southern Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles. A few days earlier, a drone equipped with explosives targeted an Iraqi airport where some U.S. forces are stationed, local authorities said.
Iran’s drone program can be traced to Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, a military-controlled company that runs an aerospace factory in Isfahan, central Iran, according to Iranian corporate records, Iran’s conservative and semiofficial FARS news agency and European security officials.
The plant was originally set up in the 1970s by American defense contractor Textron to make military helicopters at a time when Iran’s ruling monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was a key ally of Washington in the region.
Iran Aircraft Manufacturing controls a little-known entity called the Company for Designing and Manufacturing Light Aircraft, which develops high-tech drones, Iranian corporate records show. The state-owned venture recently received a large cash injection, raising its capital to the equivalent of $271.5 million from $1.5 million, according to company records.
The company is chaired by Gen. Hojjatulah Qureshi, according to minutes of its board meetings viewed by the Journal. He has also been in charge of Iran’s military research.
Iran’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment addressed to Gen. Qureshi.
On the company’s board is Hamidreza Sharifi Tehrani, an engineer who regularly attends seminars on civilian drones in countries such as Italy and Australia, according to the corporate documents and the website of a young scientists’ organization in Iran. Mr. Sharifi Tehrani didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.
After an explosives-laden drone slammed into Israel-linked tanker Mercer Street in the Arabian Sea in July, Israeli leaders publicly named Brig. Gen. Saeed Ara Jani, a little-known figure they accused of orchestrating the attack.
“When we identify someone publicly, the purpose is to send a message to his employer that we know exactly what you are doing and it is our intention to prevent it,” said one Israeli official.
The official said the U.S. and other Western nations were underestimating the risks of Iran’s drone program and called on them to take more aggressive steps. “There very well might be a situation where they are getting bolder, more courageous, and less deterred,” the official said.
The U.S. is preparing to expand sanctions against Iran’s drone program, the Journal has previously reported.
But “sanctions may not be able to affect Iran’s program,” said Kirsten Fontenrose, a former Persian Gulf-focused director at the White House’s National Security Council.
That is because unlike the heavy industry of a nuclear program, drones often rely on commercial, off-the-shelf components that can be bought online to assemble innocuous, radio-controlled gadgets, she said. Effectively blocking such sales is harder.
A confidential report prepared for the British government by C4ADS, a Washington-based think tank, found that Iran has been able to successfully arm its Houthi allies in Yemen using a network of commercial companies around the world to procure components, including some that have evaded sanctions.
“Gaps in the global export control regime and its enforcement enable Iran to procure these items and enable Houthi-linked networks to procure critical components without going through Iran,” the report concluded.
Iranian-designed drones in Iraq, Yemen and Gaza use the same model of engine, the DLE-111, made by Chinese model-airplane specialist Mile Hao Xiang Technology Co. Ltd., say experts, including from the U.N., who have examined them.
The DLE-111, an engine made by Chinese model-airplane specialist Mile Hao Xiang Technology which can be bought for about US$500 online, has been found in numerous Iranian-made UAVs. (Photo: dlengine.com)
The company told the U.N. the components used in Iranian drones were counterfeit. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Journal.
In recent years, Mile Hao Xiang Technology, whose DLE-111 sells on Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba for $500, has also exported its engines to U.S. manufacturers of radio-controlled miniature aircraft, customs records show.
“This technology is made for American teenagers to play with their toys,” said a former Western security official who has investigated Iran’s drone program.
A sophisticated South Korean-made component found on drones used against coalition forces in Yemen was tracked to a Tehran toy shop that sold remote-controlled model aircraft including miniature replicas of U.S. jet fighters, according to a U.N. investigation.
The component, known as a servomotor, combines an engine with a sensor that enables precise control of the position and speed of a drone.
Iran has also found other ways to obtain sophisticated technology. A U.N. probe into delta-wing drones, which have triangular wings, found that a key component had been manufactured in Sweden.
The component was shipped to Tehran via an Indian food-trading company before being assembled into drones used in strikes against Saudi oil facilities in May and September 2019, where they were retrieved. The U.S. says the same Iranian drone model was used in the Mercer Street attack.
Iran has used copies of the most sensitive pieces of technology developed by U.S. and Israeli companies. The drones that attacked Saudi oil facilities used a replica of a high-performance engine made by a British unit of Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems. The engine’s technology was developed in the U.K., not Israel, a person familiar with Elbit’s operations said.
The same engine copy was available for sale on the website of a Chinese company, suggesting China may have been involved in the reverse engineering, said a person familiar with the U.N. probe.
One Iranian drone used in the Syrian civil war is also heavily based on the Israeli Hermes 450. Israeli officials suspect Iran received a Hermes model from Tehran’s Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, after it crashed in Lebanon.
Sci-Fi-style weapons aim to change future of warfare
Autonomous vehicles, drones, and specialized tactical gear are poised to take over the battlefield. “Our vision is that entire theaters will fight autonomously, without a single human being directly involved,” Elbit Systems experts say.
By Hanan Greenwood
Israel Hayom, Published on 10-11-2021
An Elbit-made autonomous fighting vehicle (Photo: Courtesy of Elbit Systems)
Think about any science fiction war movie you have seen lately: augmented reality binoculars providing information to soldiers in the field; drones eliminating threats from a great distance and providing precise intelligence to a force behind cover; autonomous vehicles operating in an urban setting without any human presence. A lot of the things you will have seen however are no longer science fiction, and are possessed by militaries around the world, with the IDF leading the field.
“Our vision is that entire theaters will fight autonomously, without a single human being directly involved in the fighting,” say engineers from Elbit’s C4i division, explaining how they see the battlefield of the future. Elbit is where a lot of the most classified technologies in the IDF are being developed; some of them are already changing the battlefield. “In the future, which is no longer in the realm of science fiction, entire areas of the battlefield will be fought with autonomous means, without a single human. The robots will report back that they have completed their mission and we will return to routine.”
My visit is the first-ever by a journalist to Elbit’s classified labs in the heart of Netanya. Around 50 percent of what we saw is prohibited for publication due to considerations of state security. What can be said is that some of the technologies being developed here will significantly change the battlefield and will save soldiers’ lives in the next war or in future operations. If you were to see them, you would think they were coming straight out of a movie.
You don’t have to look into the distant future to see enormous technological developments and how they are entering service in the IDF, which is considered one of the armies that is assimilating advanced technologies quickly. Among other things, this is due to its relatively small size, which enables it to equip its soldiers with advanced tools without having to pay the enormous sums required to assimilate these tools in large militaries. The IDF has already brought into service autonomous and robotic vehicles, as well as drones on a large scale. It has also assimilated night vision systems for almost all infantry soldiers.
Digital ground army systems that operate in tanks, vehicles and even in the sophisticated “Shaked” smartphone, which is used by infantry officers and provides immediate information on force deployment, the enemy’s position and targets for immediate strikes that are updated by intelligence personnel in real-time. What is the jewel in the crown of all these advanced systems? You’ll be surprised to discover that it is the MK 77 and 624 radio transceivers, which anyone who has served in a combat role in the IDF will be familiar with. But we will come back to them later.
The most significant change can already be seen shortly after soldiers are conscripted into the IDF. Colonel (res.) Arik Avivi, the outgoing head of the weapons department at the ground forces command, reveals that the IDF will soon bring into service simulators for light weapons training. This, he says, will save the army a fortune and better prepare soldiers for combat, as from the outset they will be able to train in challenging terrain instead of shooting at cardboard cut-out figures on the firing range.
“We have already started constructing a combat training facility at the Nahal Brigade training base that will be entirely based on the use of the simulator. It’s a revolution. We will save 100% ammunition; we will shorten training time and we will improve the professional level of the soldiers.” Reservists are already using a simulator at the Sorek Base that within hours prepares them for combat in complex urban environments. In the near future, all combatants will train like that.
Personal equipment has also been significantly upgraded. If in the past only soldiers from special forces units received night vision goggles for each soldier, while in the infantry battalions only commanders, snipers, and a few individual soldiers would be allocated such equipment, today the battalions are fully equipped as the IDF has understood that optimal fighting capabilities need to be assured into darkness. Other projects in the works are enabling combatants to identify enemy fighters using digital means, and a “smart glasses” project aims to transfer data without any need for touch. The U.S. Army is currently conducting a large pilot program to introduce smart glasses for its combat soldiers, and we can expect to see such technologies reach the IDF as well.
The Elbit Systems SmartEye, ballistic eyewear providing commanders with a geo-oriented head-mounted C2 display. Projecting a see-through Augmented Reality (AR) symbology on the visor and enabling real-time image detection, SmartEye provides users with instant situational awareness. (Photo Credit: Elbit Systems.)
About two years ago, a special tech combatant unit was set up within the elite IDF Paratrooper Brigade Reconnaissance Battalion (Sayeret Tzanchanim). The soldiers specialize in using specialist equipment on the battlefield. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the introduction of special capabilities to the infantry brigades – and that means that in the very near future, soldiers from the Golani, Paratrooper Nahal, Givati and Kfir brigades will have more capabilities than soldiers from cohorts just a couple of years previously could only have dreamed of.
“The trend in the coming years will be to provide tactical forces with more specialist equipment. In the past, when we brought new weapons to the division, commanders would decide where to allocate it. Today that is no longer the case. I haven’t given new weapons to the divisions for four years because I know they are taken care of – I want to give them to the battalions and companies,” says Colonel Avivi. “All new weapons are given first to the reconnaissance units because the personnel are of higher quality. We learn from them and if everything works out, we send it down to the battalions.”
One development that is already in the final stages of testing is advanced ammunition for grenade launchers, a weapon that is in use with many soldiers in the infantry battalions. “We plan to give the combatants a more precise and deadly grenade based on 40-millimeter caliber munitions. Imagine a weapon like the LAU anti-tank missile, only it is fired using a grenade launcher that a lot of combatants in the field currently use.”
Drones will eliminate terrorists
But all of that is just a promo for what soldiers in standing army battalions will receive in the near future. During Operation Guardian of the Walls earlier this year the Sayeret Tzanchanim tech unit used a new drone called “Maoz” (Firefly) produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The Firefly is a loitering munitions system that can locate and attack targets at a range of 1,000 meters or 500 meters in urban environments. It carries a 350-gram warhead and dives at a speed of 70 kph before exploding on its target.
Some of Elbit’s drones in action (Photo courtesy of Elbit)
Avivi reveals that 15 IDF operational battalions are about to receive the Firefly, which will constitute a significant force multiplier in any future conflict. Company commanders already have observation and intelligence drones, and now they will receive a weapon that will enable them to operate without exposing themselves. “Maoz is a lethal drone that when a terrorist is identified will close the circuit and blow itself on them. A lot of these tools will be available to the IDF very soon.”
During Guardian of the Walls, Sayeret Tzanchanim employed drone swarms, a tactic that will be increasingly used already in the near future. However, in the future less drones will be employed as they will be able to travel further and carry larger warheads, requiring less of the tools to achieve the same effect.
With all due respect to face-to-face physical skirmishes, combat is becoming more and more about intelligence, and a commander who doesn’t make use of intelligence capabilities will find himself at a disadvantage, endangering himself and his soldiers. Every battalion and company commander today has intelligence drones and because they have become so ubiquitous and cheap, they are no longer fixed if they break as it is more cost-effective just to replace them. These drones provide short-term intelligence to tactical forces and provide commanders with up-to-date situational intelligence.
One of the most advanced tools in IDF use today, and one that is being revealed here for the first time is what the IDF has dubbed “seismic pearls”, small circular sensors just a few centimeters wide that carry an antenna. During the next war, thousands of these devices will be dropped from planes and drones, and will be able to detect movement on the ground. “The seismic sensors were envisioned by the late Shimon Peres, who set up an NGO called Pearls of Wisdom. He said following the Second Lebanon War that there is no need for planes to fly back and forth and that we would create advanced appliances that are capable of tracking terrorists. The vision is that in the future the pearls will be the size of a droplet.” In practice, the pearls can’t be located once they have been dropped because they are so small. They will be able to provide intelligence in the field and give an up-to-date situational picture to digital ground army systems.
“As an officer in the Second Lebanon War, I remember situations of friendly fire that occurred because I couldn’t understand who was on the other side of the hill just a kilometer-and-a-half away,” recalls a senior official who accompanied us on the tour of the Elbit campus. This has changed at unprecedented speed, and it looks like in the future the changes will even be a lot more dramatic. Elbit is currently developing a 15-centimeter drone with the aim of sending it into hostile territory equipped with sensors so that Israeli forces will be able to identify the enemy without endangering themselves. “Our vision is that these miniature drones will enter buildings and fly between trees, and at the same time the sensors that we have dropped between rocks, will provide intelligence. The seismic pearls work for a few days and can do the work deep in enemy territory without us being there.”
The jewel in the crown of Elbit’s technological developments, one that pulls together all the digital capabilities of the ground army, is the digital ground army system that is a kind of digital navigation system on steroids. An encrypted system is installed on every armored vehicle, tank, and Namer Armored Personnel Carrier and even on special IDF smartphones; the system provides real-time information about the location of friendly forces, terrorists and targets. This system received a major update a few months ago.
One cannot exaggerate the role of this system in changing the battlefield. It provides an up-to-date real-time picture of events at any given moment using all the means available in the field; from soldiers in Unit 8200 and the intelligence branch in Tel Aviv through to planes and UAVs, with tanks providing their angle, navy ships adding their perspective, if necessary, all the way down to the Golani infantry brigade soldier crouched behind a wall, with terrorists only tens of meters away from him.
“The system has input from the chiefs of staff at the Pit down to infantrymen in the field. We can analyze what the soldiers in the field can see and from that construct an ambush on a target and destroy it,” say the engineers from Elbit’s C4i division. “The system allows threat locations and enables us to prioritize. If in the Second Lebanon War, intelligence from Unit 8200 took half an hour to reach a battalion commander and only then made its way down to troops on the ground, now all of that will happen in seconds.
“We will be able to transmit to a soldier’s smartphone where the enemy is to a greater degree of certainty and to enable him to view the battlefield through the cameras of a ship or plane and other means. Every platoon commander will know how to create targets, to open a live chat with all the relevant elements, and to request an immediate strike if needed. Our vision is that already during the next campaign we will see a lot of video-based combat – they will be able to see from a plane or UAV in real-time. These processes will help us keep our soldiers safe and on the other hand to conduct strikes that are far more accurate,” say the Elbit engineers. We should note that none of this is science fiction; it is all already in use in the IDF.
“The digital ground army gives us intelligence that we have never had before. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world. It’s in another league. We let Elbit know everything we need and they supply us with the capabilities,” explains Colonel Avivi. “We have the ability to close circles of fire, to connect to the air force, whatever we want. If we had these capabilities in previous operations such as Defensive Shield. We would have lost far fewer soldiers. It’s true that soldiers knew how to orient themselves before the digital ground army, but it’s like the Waze navigation app – it’s a backup. Training will still teach soldiers to be able to cope without technology, but why should I want to prevent a soldier from getting stuck in a traffic jam? We save lives with these means.”
In the future, the IDF will be able to monitor each and every soldier on the battlefield and thus to know how the force is deployed and even whether a soldier has been kidnapped – and where he has been taken. A few weeks ago, soldiers from the Refaim (Ghost) Multidimensional Unit conducted an experiment at the Smart-Tech facility with an appliance the size of a packet of cigarettes. The idea is that from next year, if everything works out, thousands of soldiers will already be equipped with the devices.
There is one thing that is essential in order to provide the full intelligence picture, operate the digital ground army, the drones and the rest of the classified equipment that soldiers will use in the next war – an internet connection, even in areas without reception. And this is where radio transceivers – those burdensome boxes that soldiers carry on their backs – come in. The soldiers may see them as a tool for commanders to speak with each other, but for the IDF they are the most significant factor in the next war.
“We are in the midst of creating a revolution that will enable a quantum leap in the battlefield,” say the folks at Elbit. They clarify that they are not in any way exaggerating. “We are bringing the radio of the future to the IDF. Currently, you can only be a champion gamer if you have a powerful computer, and here the goal is to make our soldiers the most lethal and efficient in the world. Today we have a cellular device that is connected to radio and can generate operational internet in the battlefield.”
Elbit Systems’ Smart WristView, a compact, low-power, rugged wrist-strapped C2 display (Photo Credit: Elbit Systems.)
Over the past few years, the IDF has been working to dramatically improve coordination between its various branches so as to enable real-time data transfer and create efficient mutual strike capabilities, among other things through the use of advanced digital appliances. About two months ago, an advanced pilot exercise was held in the Golan Heights with the aim of integrating Air Force and Military Intelligence personnel into ground force units. Pilots and intelligence officers joined in the exercise held by a battalion battle team – tanks, infantry, artillery UAVs and more. They experienced what war looks like in practice, not via the screen at the IDF headquarters in the Kirya.
“These officers are doing holy work but they do it from offices in the Kirya. Now however they have been inside a tank and fired shells, and they understand how the intelligence they generate from back there serves the last mile of the maneuvering force,” explains Artillery Corps commander, Brigadier-General Neri Horowitz. “The officers slept in the field, ate battle rations and gained a better understanding of operational processes. We are conducting a lot of digitization processes, but there is no replacement to knowing how to work together. After we drop those officers off in the field, then the guys from military intelligence understand better how things work on the ground and how to better operate the digital ground army.”
The exercise comes alongside another project that is currently taking shape in the IDF, the Sufa (assistance and assault) teams. For the first time, alongside artillery support officers, whose role is to coordinate between artillery batteries and fighting forces on the ground, battalions will also have aerial support officers and soldiers who have been trained as assault NCOs, whose role will be to locate and map targets and coordinate artillery fire, missile fire and aerial assault vehicles – that will be operated via technological means and command and control systems, including the digital ground army.
“Robotic technology is being developed around the world at a dizzying pace. Technologically we are there. There is no alternative to a ground maneuver to win a war, it cannot be done without it, but we can provide the ground forces with tools that will prevent unnecessary loss of life and change the battlefield,” says Colonel Avivi, summing up the revolution that is currently taking place in the IDF.