Big Data Is Preparing the IDF for 21st Century Combat
JNS.org – In the not too distant future, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) battalion commander may stare out at the urban sprawl of a Gazan neighborhood. As the commander surveys the residential buildings, the locations of enemy gunmen hiding in apartments will be visible, marked in red by the augmented reality (AR) military glasses that he or she is wearing.
On the third floor of a building, the commander will see a hostile combatant crouching and pointing a shoulder-fired missile. On the fifth floor, he or she will know that two snipers are lying in wait, and that behind the building there are enemy mortar launchers.
The battalion commander will pass on the coordinates of these threats to Israeli Air Force aircraft hovering overhead, and they will promptly destroy the targets.
The commander may receive an incoming alert message on a piece of eye wear; a terrorist cell is spotted moving in his or her direction from the Gazan coastline. With the push of a button on the screen of a tablet-like device, the commander could order an Israeli Navy missile ship — waiting in the sea, tens of miles away — to launch a precision strike on the target.
And then the commander will lead his or her soldiers forward.
This is a fictional scenario today, but it could become reality soon, thanks to the high-tech revolution of the IDF’s network-centered warfare (NCW).
The technology used in the above scenario will allow the IDF to adapt to 21st century Mideast warfare, where enemies appear and vanish in very little time, often in urban settings. This new environment is a far cry from the organized state militaries that the IDF faced in the 20th century.
Maj. Assaf Ovadia, head of the IDF’s Combined Operations Department, confirmed to JNS.org that several technological breakthroughs have recently occurred, paving the path for the formation of a digital military network that will significantly enhance the IDF’s capabilities.
“The world is changing very quickly, both in the civilian and military spheres. So are the threats we are dealing with,” Ovadia said. “Our ability to handle big data means we can bring information very rapidly to the end user in the field. We are adding new abilities all of the time.”
For now, this means that all three IDF branches — the army, navy and air force — are linked in a unified command and control network. A fourth member of the network is the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, which provides critical information in real time to field units conducting operations.
Learning from the past
Following important combat lessons learned from the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF’s C4I Branch (which stands for Computers, Communications, Command and Control) set up the revolutionary Network IDF, which allows all the military branches to share the same data infrastructure.
In the past, each IDF branch had its own system for managing operations, which was ineffective and delayed the transit of critical, real-time information.
“Now, nothing is transferred because everyone is sitting on the same infrastructure. Each one is contributing to the common picture, in line with their missions,” Ovadia explained.
Network IDF was launched as a concept in 2014, and quickly began changing the way that Israeli forces fight in battle.
During the 2014 conflict with Hamas, a terrorist naval commando cell from Gaza swam north in the Mediterranean Sea and landed on Zikim beach on Israel’s southern coastline. What happened next represented “the first sparks” of the network, Ovadia said.
“An observations soldier saw suspicious activity on the beach. She transmitted data in real time to ground and air units. Then a dialogue began between a tank commander and the air force. The units coordinated their firepower against the targets,” he recalled.
Securing the data
The biggest challenge with the new system is securing the network against breach attempts, which could become a source of vulnerability for the IDF. Since the system’s inception, the IDF has worked to secure the network so that data can be shared safely with end users in the field.
In 2015, Network IDF was declared fully operational, and today it continues to evolve.
For the network to be truly effective, Ovadia said, it’s necessary to analyze the raw data, and turn it into useful knowledge. And the intelligence must be sent only to those who would directly benefit from it.
“We don’t want a company commander to receive all [the information] Military Intelligence has. Similarly, a tank commander is only interested in the ten kilometers in front of him.”
Higher ranking officers have access to far more data.
In today’s IDF, every end user, whether a tank commander or a senior officer in the general staff, has access to a command and control system, which includes a screen. Future plans include making these capabilities more automatic. And augmented reality is already being used in training.
“We are dealing with augmented reality a lot. We are on the way to it,” Ovadia said. “In the future, we won’t want an observations soldier to merely say what she sees. We want the commander in the field to see what she sees.”