This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Interview with Mr. Eyal Shaharabani, head of unmanned maritime program at IAI / MALAM, on the evolution of unmanned vehicles development and the current “Sci-Fi” in the field.
The answers were given in Hebrew, the translation follows suit:
A1: Historically, the issue of developing systems of this kind began more than a decade ago, when the need arose to develop a system designed to accurately calculated and project where certain object might fall at sea. For this purpose, the system comprises 4 small boats, each fitted with a navigation system and 360 degree camera. These systems were deployed at sea and sent to a specific location per GPS, where the objects were projected to fall. Falling objects expel a great deal of water, and the systems capture this massive splash. The systems relay the data to a mother ship which fuses and decodes it, thereby issuing the pin-point location where the object fell. This is what we started out with. Having achieved this capability, we met with several prospective clients for the systems, and began developing their features, complete with dedicated payloads. This was 1G. We then developed 2G in the course of the following years.
A2: In fact, about 3 years ago, it was decided to develop a new, more robust system, 3G, whose goal was multitasking and even more marine applications and uses. For this purpose, we conducted an operational analysis of the specifications required. We then made a kind of survey using a 12m-long rapid and robust vessel, made of compound materials. The vessel has two powerful 560hp engines, which enable not only high speed but also remote target interception. We integrated into it numerous remote-controlled dedicated payload, from night and day electro-optics, radar, various comm systems, 360 degree observation systems, additional rear and front cameras, as well as internal cameras to monitor all the systems onboard, including the engines. The system is not only used for reconnaissance, but is also armed – I cannot specify further. I can sat each system can be tailored to the customer’s unique requirements. The vessel and its systems are controlled by a command and control station. We developed this as well. It has two pilots and a commander. We use a marine map complete with the location of marine barriers of all sorts, so we can pre-load a mission scenario from the station, so the vessel, which is completely autonomous, already ’knows’ what to avert and what other vessels to avoid. The autonomous vessel relays data and images to the control station, and it can also send them to another station, to another vessel or to a fellow IAI-made Heron. All this provides a highly rich and comprehensive battle image, enabling terrain dominance.
A3: We continue to dream, there is a lot of work ahead. The next level, 4G, will feature lower human involvement. Maybe, in the more distant future, which is still Si-Fi, these systems will be able to make independent decisions without a pilot, even when to fire. We are a long way off, but we are confident we will get there.