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Israel Builds New Soldier System

November 2003
By Adam Baddeley

Warfighters to become tactical platforms on battlefield.

Planners for the Israel Defense Forces have directed their infantry systems development program to focus on the growing challenges of urban warfare. The country’s future combat soldier program is delivering both technological and conceptual solutions to provide advanced communications, navigation and lethality in an integrated package to the infantry.

One of the key requirements for operating in urban areas is effective navigation systems that function in the third dimension to overcome the blockage of global positioning system signals inside urban terrain. In addition, that information must be displayed on a 1-to-50,000 map or image. Israeli military officials say the use of data communications plus accurate navigation systems will significantly contribute to optimization and efficiency in operating forces and will reduce the number of casualties.

Lt. Col. Sasson Meshar, Israeli army, head of the integrated systems branch, land systems division of Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development, says that experience in urban terrain, “made us reconsider our requirements regarding the future. The last conflict forced us to meet various situations that we were not used to meeting during the conventional fight in open war. We used to plan our missions for open areas, but we found ourselves dealing with urban terrain.

“Even though we are investing a lot of effort is this area, there are some technological gaps we haven’t completely solved. Some situations in urban terrain are not even similar to the conventional situation we had in Yom Kippur in 1973 or even in our fight against guerrillas like Hezbollah in South Lebanon,” he says.

The future infantryman’s capabilities, currently in the evaluation stage led by Elbit Systems, Haifa, Israel, will be an integrated part of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) battalion combat team (BCT) Internet protocol (IP)-based command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) structure. This incorporates joint tactical units, including organic armor, infantry, reconnaissance, field engineering, tactical organic artillery, mortars and logistics assets supported by other battlefield components such as helicopters, air defense systems and special forces.

One goal of the BCT is to enhance coordination between forces’ tactical perceptions and mutual communications capabilities as well as improve understanding of the current situational picture at the tactical unit and maneuver forces level. The system handles data collection and distribution to components in the mobile environment and enables them to receive important data, including the location of allies, enemies and target reports as well as mission command, position and heading information.

The philosophy underpinning the program is to treat the soldier as another tactical platform. The soldier collects and distributes the same information and uses the same infrastructure and dynamic map systems to communicate as an equal partner under the tactical BCT C4I system.

From the beginning, developers determined that not all the infantry soldiers would need the whole package of capabilities. A need was identified for three distinct combinations of equipment according to a soldier’s role. The basic system is for the infantry soldier—sometimes called the gunner or warrior. The crew-served weapon operator and the commander’s variants require additional and different equipment.

The basic system comprises several key capabilities: transmission of the system’s location, full shooting and aiming capabilities, equipment to support observation, and aiming and shooting from cover combined with a low signature. The crew-served weapon variant will equip snipers, dismounted antitank weapon operators and mortar crews and will use the longer range weapon sights integral to the specific weapon, combined with orientation and navigation capabilities over and above that of the basic system. The commander will be the point of entry and exit for information sent via the BCT network to the infantry unit, will conduct mission planning and will have a handheld device for long-range target acquisition.

The total package is divided into the head system, handheld system, weapon system and body system. The head system contains a night-vision capability, audio headset, north finder and helmet-mounted display. The current configuration for the body system has a voice and data communications solution, the main computer and a power pack in a waist-mounted integrated carriage on the soldier’s back.

The new Red Rock ultrahigh frequency radio, manufactured by Tadiran Communications Limited, Holon, Israel, is the basis for the current communications configuration. Moshe Markovitz, vice president of business development, Tadiran Communications, says the Red Rock weighs 400 grams and is roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes. It includes a battery sufficient for 15 hours of operation and has throughput for voice and data of 16 kilobits per second and up to 96 kilobits per second if used solely for data.

Markovitz explains that the two most significant features of the radio are that it is fully duplexed and that each radio enables synchronization in the network. This eliminates the need for a base station, allowing new users to easily enter the network.

The communications suite uses a Bluetooth protocol adapted to offer protection against electronic warfare and links the soldier’s computer and microphone. Connectivity to the higher echelons is via the commander’s very high frequency radio. The IP structure across the battlefield enables straightforward access to higher communication networks when necessary.

“In our concept, you have to combine the lower echelons with an IP grid that will support the battalion level. At a time of alert, each soldier can, by pushing a button, be on the battalion network and communicate that he is in trouble. The commander of the battalion can then see on the screen who is on alert and needs assistance,” Markovitz says. This is a software-based capability, and the system prioritizes users to prevent the network from being flooded.

Each soldier also is issued a Tadiran Communications ruggedized personal digital assistant based on the Hewlett Packard IPAQ, which was recently used in operation Iraqi Freedom by the U.S. armed forces. Other programs are coordinated with soldier modernization, including work with micro-unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles, unattended ground sensors, modern uniforms, advanced protection and fuel cell technology.

Yosi Marko, director of sales for C4I, Tadiran, explains that Tadiran Electronic Systems, Holon, Israel, demonstrated its MRS2000 manpack receiving system and its card-based DF2020 communications electronic warfare system for the program. The company is working to reduce the products’ size and power consumption, which are critical to their utility. The firm also is leveraging its role and expertise from the ongoing IDF’s Digitization of the Battlefield program to integrate the soldier into the wider battlefield architecture.

Although a final decision on the sources for system components has yet to be made, the IDF has selected the IMI Tavor assault rifle to replace the M4/M16 and meet its lethality requirements. The decision was made following field tests by a company from the Givrati Brigade. They used 73 Tavors and M4 weapons between November 2001 and August 2002 with an average of 2,000 rounds fired in training, exercises and active service deployment. Further tests were undertaken by a smaller but more experienced group of soldiers from the Golani Infantry Brigade.

The first complete infantry system prototype was tested in mid-2002 over a three-week period. The systems are currently in the pre-full-scale-development stage with further field trials scheduled to begin later this year and trial completion scheduled for March 2004. This work will define the exact specification and requirements for the full-scale-development stage, which is scheduled to be complete by the first quarter of 2005.

The first field trial contained a range of scenarios that included urban scenarios and real-fire exercises using a squad of experienced infantrymen who covered 15 to 18 miles during the trial. Functionality demonstrations involved firing from cover, target acquisition, data distribution and mission planning, including the writing of mission statements, terrain analysis and preparation of plans using graphic overlays. Col. Meshar explains that the system navigation capabilities significantly reduced the time the squad needed to reach its target.

The goals for the next trials are to test new subsystems for single systems and teams and to provide input for the full-scale-development specification. Integrated infantry groups concepts need to be tested with full data and voice communication within the team and also within the wider tactical C4I system.

Other issues also must be resolved. For example, decisions need to be made about Windows CE or XP as the operating system, wired or wireless connections between the weapon and helmet subsystems, the need for non-line-of-sight communications for the infantry squad at this level, and the potential role of voice activation in the system. “The only conclusion we have is that we still have work to do,” Col. Meshar says.

Adam Baddeley is a freelance technical writer based in the United Kingdom. He specializes in the area of command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance.