Instead of Saying IDF Say Israel Robot Army: Far-Reaching Vision or Realistic Forecast?

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Leading Israeli defense industry officials portray the challenges of the future battlefield and conclude: The road leads to autonomy 

At the AUS&R 2020 Unmanned Systems Broadcast Edition organized by iHLS for the ninth year, which will be online on September 7, Israel’s most prominent defense industry officials gather to discuss transformations in the unmanned systems at the battlefield, competition by the civilian industries, and whether soldiers will still be required at the future battlefield.

In recent years, all the defense industries have been entering the “low altitude level” field – the airspace underneath the flight space of helicopters and fighter aircraft, where drones and unmanned aerial vehicles operate.

The question arises why do the large industries that usually make billion-dollar deals choose to join this field that offers cheap off-the-shelf products at this particular point in time. World giant companies, such as Boeing, have launched activities in this realm recently, in both capabilities development and the acquisition of companies in the field.

Moshe Levy, IAI EVP and CEO of the Military Aircraft Division, asserts: “We tend to focus on the individual components that are essentially cheap and accessible, which makes them attractive. The role of the defense industries is to produce the integrative solution for customers.”

Shuki Yehuda, EVP, CTO & R&D, at Elbit Systems Headquarters explains: “Our customers are looking for systemic solutions and capability, they are not interested in separate products. In each component there is very little money and the competition at the civilian market is harsh. The opportunity lies in the ability to provide systemic solutions for the world’s defense industries.

Dr. Uzi Landau, Chairman of the Board, RAFAEL, said that first and foremost, the defense industries have started operating in this field because the State of Israel needs it. He added that the low and close-to-ground altitude field is going to grow considerably during the coming years. Dr. Landau: “The technology is developing dramatically. These systems will play a more and more massive role in all the Army’s maneuvering systems.” According to Landau, the next stage will be the autonomous vehicles revolution, which will completely change warfare. 

According to American evaluations, within 20 years most of the ground warfare at the battlefield will be fully autonomous. Experts say that instead of soldiers – we will send an army of drones and unmanned systems to the battlefield. Shuki Yehuda from Elbit Systems explains that although this forecast is a bit optimistic however the question is certainly not if, but rather when. “It may take another decade, but it will arrive. Exactly as the autonomous vehicle.”

Dr. Landau from RAFAEL explains: “The mass of information at the future battlefield is beyond the capabilities of the human brain. Real-time operational decisions will be made automatically. The systems will direct the various UAVs and drones almost without any human interference. Eventually, the human factor will have to make decisions based on all the data streamed by UAVs.”

Regarding Israel’s role in this game, Shuki Yehuda, Elbit’s EVP, CTO & R&D, asserts that Israel needs this major capability. “While it doesn’t have the vertical capability to manufacture fighter aircraft, Israel has a full vertical capability at the close-to-ground altitude. This capability is a major force multiplier at the battlefield, both against terrorist threats and powerful states threats. Israel has the opportunity to lead this revolution globally. With Israel’s capabilities, it can be the global spearhead in this field.”

One of the challenges faced by the defense industries is the development rate by the civilian industries, said Conference Chairman Col. (res.) Ofer Haruvi, formerly IAF’s Head of UAV Department, who asserted that we live now in a world where development cycles are becoming shorter. The R&D and investment rates in the civilian sector are higher than those of the defense industries. Technologies are changing in extreme speed and the industries do not have some dozens of years for development, as we have seen in the past. The industries must accommodate themselves to this changing reality.

Moshe Levy, IAI VP, said the defense industries market is essentially a conservative market. For the first time, the basis becomes commercial products and all that is happening in the civilian sector. There is a tension between the civilian and military rates. This is also true regarding consumers and industries. The solution to this challenge is that we are approaching civilian companies, bringing agility to the defense establishment. 

RAFAEL’s Chairman said that these exactly were the reasons behind the recent acquisition of Aeronautics by RAFAEL. He added that the civilian industry has been conquering more and more fields that were dealt exclusively with by the military industry in the past. Currently, fields such as autonomous capabilities and communications are civilian spheres. This is true not only regarding the extent of investments in R&D but also in large scale sales and growing reliability. Our approach is “to ride the wave”, namely to take from the civilian industry what it’s got and integrate our own unique systems, securing and preparing it to war. The civilian industry does not do these things.”

AUS&R 2020 – for details