Israel leads charge to shorten sensor-to-shooter time
With its long experience in operating a wide variety of platforms and sensors in combat, Israel now considers the need to fuse information into a coherent, real-time intelligence picture as one of its biggest tasks.
In the cyber-realm—which now has an extensive overlap with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)—Israeli researchers realize that most information is already available, but the challenge is to detect it in real time and immediately translate it into action.
Since the dramatic success of Stuxnet (a computer worm whose authors have not been identified) in sabotaging Iran's nuclear activity in 2010, “cyber” has become the buzzword in Israel's intelligence community. Vast resources are being poured into the mushrooming bodies dealing with cyber—the military, Mossad and ISA (Shin-Bet). Military Intelligence (Aman) unit 8200 (an equivalent of the U.S.'s National Security Agency) was given the monopoly on intelligence-gathering and offensive operations in the cyberworld, and it is providing those services to the other agencies.
The rapid spread of computers and mobile communications in the Middle East, reflected in the recent revolutions, has opened a world of opportunities for Israeli intelligence agencies. “Just imagine how much I can learn about you just by going through your laptop or smartphone,” says Amos Yadlin, former chief of Aman. “This could be compared to the emergence of airpower in the beginning of the 20th century, adding a new dimension of warfare.”
Recognizing that potential, Israeli industries have also diverted significant investments to developing cybertools, withemerging as a leading integrator, alongside software developers such as Verint and Ness Technologies. “Gathering the information is becoming less and less a challenge,” an industry source tells Aviation Week. “It's always there and looking at any event in retrospect; you always find you had the relevant intelligence before, but you were not aware of it. What gives you the edge is the ability to locate the relevant information from within the trillions of bytes you're gathering in real time.”
Elbit is trying to meet this challenge with its Wise Intelligence Technology (WiT) system, which is designed to collect human, signals, imagery and open-source intelligence and translate it into a common format. Relying on that single database, WiT processes, analyses and disseminates the data as a coherent intel product.
WiT is based on Elbit's experience with the Integrated Component-based Exploitation concept for fusing imagery from multiple sensors. Like Rafael's Imilite, which is deployed by the German army in Afghanistan, or' (IAI) RICent, WiT is designed to manage multi-sensor reconnaissance missions and create a single, coherent picture. But outside the traditional battlefield, especially in counter-insurgency operations, relying on imagery is simply not enough.
Leading this brand of analysis is Shin-Bet, Israel's security agency, which began targeting individual terrorists from the air in 2001. The need to triple-verify the identity of a target convinced the agency to bring together, for the first time, signals analysts and human intelligence operators to view a common unmanned aircraft system (UAS) video feed.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) then realized that the same method could be effective against rockets and anti-tank teams located in urban areas in Lebanon and Gaza. Because the IDF operates in known arenas, it established several unified fusion centers that are capable of receiving information from all sensors and controlling any available weaponry. Their effectiveness was demonstrated during Israel's “Cast Lead” operation in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, where the average exposure time of a Palestinian rocket team was 90 sec. During this short time, several ISR centers, operating from the brigade level and up, were able to detect a suspected target, confirm it as hostile and direct munitions against it.
“It was completely irrelevant what munitions were used or whether they were fired from the air, ground or sea,” a brigade commander who participated in the operation tells Aviation Week. “With constant surveillance in the air and persistent intelligence gathering from all other sources, we were able to translate any intelligence into action in less than a minute in some cases.”
“Range and precision are no longer a challenge,” says another senior officer. “What we need is to be able to tell who the enemy is, preferably before they act.”
The Gaza operation underlined the need for constant surveillance above enemy territory, which was conducted mostly by UAS. Since then, the IDF has bolstered its UAS fleet, currently operating four layers of unmanned systems, soon to be five. The upper tier comprises IAI's medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) Eitan (). With its ability to carry multiple payloads and with a range of more than 1,000 km (620 mi.), the UAS is operated from the General Staff level. The Shoval MALE (Heron 1) UAS is mostly deployed for air force missions. The requirement to carry multiple payloads has spurred the to bolster its (Zik) fleet with the larger Hermes 900, the first of which has been delivered to the air force. The Zik usually supports the ground battle at territorial command or division level.
At lower altitudes, the IDF equips its battalions with the Sky Rider (Elbit's Skylark 1-LE), a 6.5-kg (14.3-lb.) UAS with 3 hr. endurance, designed to provide commanders with immediate tactical intelligence. In between the Sky Rider and the Hermes, the IDF plans to deploy the 65-kg Skylark II to provide reconnaissance at the brigade level.
As the number of UAS missions expands, industries are seeking to develop more compact, higher-performance payloads. “Today, we are already capable of using a single electro-optical payload to cover a wide area that once required 20 cameras,” says an industry source. “Our effort is to create a super-camera that will be able to serve a dozen clients with different interests at the same time.” New capabilities in hyperspectral imagery will also find their way into UAS payloads, leading them into the realm of measurements and signatures intelligence.
“The vision is to be able to direct an optical sensor on a seemingly innocent area and detect the hostiles among it even before they draw,” says an industry official. “It could be either by detecting the presence of explosives with hyperspectral imagery or locating the existence of weapons through their unique signature.”
Another effort is to develop advanced self-defense capabilities for UAS. “As the platforms are growing and, with them, the amount of payloads, they have become less expendable,” the official says. IAI is already pondering designs for the Heron 3, which will be roughly the size of the U.S.-built, jet-powered Predator C.
There also is substantial interest in mini-, micro- and nano-UAS. IAI has developed the 0.5-kg Mosquito and recently unveiled the “Ghost,” a hovering mini-UAS designed for the urban environment. Other industry players are researching the development of insect-size autonomous UAS.
However, manned ISR platforms, such as the air force's Beechcraft B200 King Airs, are still a key capability. Equipped with El-Op Ltd.'s Advanced Multi-Sensory Payload System (AMPS), they provide high-resolution images, clearer than any UAS payload's and at a much greater range.
The aerial sensor arsenal is designed to control an area from above. During the recent Paris air show, Elbit presented the Waaps (wide-area aerial persistent surveillance) concept, an integration of aerial and ground sensors designed to monitor an area and quickly respond to any hostility. Indeed, as Israel's experience in Lebanon and Gaza showed, existing aerial ISR capabilities enable a quick response but can rarely prevent hostilities before they take place. During the Gaza conflict, the Israeli air force was able to destroy almost every rocket launcher that fired; but despite 2,400 strikes in 22 days, the service was not able to completely suppress rocket fire coming out of Gaza. That could only be achieved in areas where the IDF was positioned on the ground.
Recognizing that, Israel is fielding a wide swath of air and missile defense sensors to provide warning of imminent attacks and to direct the various interceptors against incoming missiles. With the Gaza and Lebanese border already covered with Rafael's Ma'amin electro-optical detection system, the IDF began deploying the first Elta EL/M-2084 multimission radar. The MMRs will provide information to both the air and ground forces on any incoming threat and will support the Iron Dome and David's Sling counter-rocket systems in their attempts to intercept the threat. Augmented by the Arrow 2's and 3's Green Pine radars, and by the U.S.-operated X-band AN/TPY-2 radar deployed in Israel, these systems should give full situational awareness of any ballistic threat. Cruise missiles are the only type of threat that is not covered by this alignment; however, Israel is already seeking the appropriate sensor to detect them.
Hovering above all these ground-based systems is Israel's strategic ISR in the form of six reconnaissance satellites, providing almost constant coverage of Israel's areas of interest—mostly Iran. The three Ofeq military satellites and the two military/civilian Eros satellites are equipped with high-resolution cameras operating in the visual range. They are augmented with the TecSar, Elta's synthetic-aperture radar satellite, providing imagery at night and in all weather conditions.
While deficiencies in Israel's indigenous Shavit launch vehicle brought major setbacks to the Ofeq program, IAI did succeed in building long-lasting satellites. Ofeq-5 is still functional more than nine years after launch, and its civilian twin, Eros-A, is about to mark an 11th anniversary in orbit. The unexpectedly long life span of the existing Ofeq and Eros spacecraft has prompted the Israeli defense ministry to defer the launch of the next Ofeq, which will be equipped with El-Op's Jupiter panchromatic and multispectral camera. Instead, Israel will launch TecSar 2 in 2012, which will provide double coverage during nighttime.
Delivering all that information to the operating combat units is the final link in the ISR chain. There, Israel's ambitious Digital Army Program (Tsayad), aimed at connecting all IDF units and platforms through a common broadband network, is beginning to mature. Several IDF divisions are already equipped with the latest version of the TORC2H C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) system, which provides commanders down to the company level an integrated battle picture of friendly and enemy forces.
“The vision—that the field commander can point to a target on his handheld machine and the fighter pilot will immediately receive the coordinates and strike—is starting to be realized,” says a senior IDF source. “Yet, there are still problems of creating common language among the services.”