TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Ministry of Defense is eyeing new autonomous operating concepts and a spectrum of unmanned air, ground and sea systems, several of which could become functional within a decade.
In a rare public presentation earlier this month, Brig. Gen. Nir Halamish, head of the military research and development unit of the Ministry’s MAFAT Research and Development Bureau, outlined Israel’s unmanned vehicles blueprint through 2025.
Speaking at a conference of Israel Defense and the local chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Halamish cited MoD’s interest in unmanned flight, unmanned surface ships and autonomous underwater systems for countering mines.
He said MoD started a five-year program to advance civilian unmanned gliders for military missions, insisting the ministry and local industrial partners do not intend to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather are focusing on injecting military-grade robustness for maneuvering forces.
In the realm of ground vehicles, he noted that Israel is the only country in the world to deploy unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) for persistent, around-the-clock border control missions. The experience Israel has accumulated with UGVs operating at its border with Gaza will be replicated in other areas.
“These [UGVs] are the first at any event, which prevents our soldiers from coming into contact with the enemy at the outset,” he said.
Knowledge gained from unmanned border patrol missions will eventually be expanded to a point where UGVs will be part and parcel of maneuvering ground forces. Halamish cited.
A key future vector for land warfare is use of unmanned systems as a type of “robotic advance guard,” whereby armed UGVs would team with manned units for joint operations in high-threat theaters.
“This advance guard is to be deployed hundreds of meters ahead of the manned force. We hope to get there in the coming years,” he said.
Unmanned logistics convoys are another future vector, as are small unmanned submersibles, both of which Halamish said Israel can achieve “relatively easily” in the coming five years.
Also within reach, he said, are two new UAV systems, one involving small hovercraft built to carry up to 40 kilos for escorting tactical-echelon ground forces and the other heavy-lift drones capable of transporting several hundred kilograms.
Elad Aronson, executive vice president of Elbit systems and general manager of its ISTAR division, said that beyond the plethora of new platforms under development is the need to focus on improving autonomous or remotely controlled execution of specific missions.
“The issue is not the platform, but the mission,” Aronson said in a Nov. 24 interview.
“Obviously, we’re going to see a lot of new platforms operating in all dimensions: on the sea, under the sea, on the ground, under the ground, in air and in space. The key is to get these systems to perform 90 percent of the work autonomously,” he said.