IN RURAL CENTRAL ISRAEL — When soldiers look through the sights of their assault rifles with the Elbit System’s new artificial intelligence data platform, their view is transformed to resemble a first-person shooter video game.
Layers of data from the Assault Rifle Combat Application, or ARCAS, display alongside a soldier’s view of the environment — a mock urban landscape and dark tunnel in the case of the company’s recent demonstration in a rural area in central Israel. Shooters push buttons on a grip to toggle among layers of information about their surroundings, including motion detection, range, ammunition levels and more data that’s just a click away.
ARCAS, which the Israel-based company is featuring at the DSEI conference in London, incorporates a microcomputer in the weapon to process data and provide a graphical user interface to display the information in the rifle’s electro-optical sight and through an optional helmet-mounted eyepiece.
The demo used ARCAS systems mounted on M-4s, with testers shooting at stationary targets. The use of ideas from the gaming world is clear when putting the sight up to the eye.
The system is easy to adapt and adjust, Elbit officials said, and the company developed it for average infantry soldiers, not just special forces. “We made it very intuitive so it looks like PlayStation’s Fortnite [video game]; it shows range, wind and ammo left, etc.,” said Arie Chernobrov, general manager of Elbit Security Systems.
The system builds on the company’s portfolio of scopes and thermal night vision sights. “We’ve worked in infantry systems for many years,” said Chernobrov. Infantry has generally lagged in high-tech capabilities that pilots or submariners may have in today’s militaries, the Elbit demonstrators noted. Infantry has been slow to make use of the kinds of applications available on smartphones for civilians, for instance, including navigation, communications and integration of basic information into thermal weapon sights.
Elbit said it had three parameters for developing the system: increasing survivability for forces, improving situational awareness and increasing lethality. Working through feedback from ground forces, the company developed the current configuration. Leaders compare it to a mobile phone as a kind of plug-and-play platform that can be built into rifles.
Part of the advance that ARCAS offers comes from its layered applications that make use of a variety of data, made possible by AI and microcomputing advances that are starting to make such systems affordable, officials said. Updates and new applications are easy to upload, they said, and militaries can incorporate the ruggedized system on any rifle with Picatinny rails.
It is currently under study with the Israel Defense Forces, according to Chernobrov. The IDF is undergoing a multiyear restructuring plan called Momentum that includes digitization efforts.
“The miniaturized computer unit receives and processes real-time data collected from the soldier’s field of vision (as perceived by the EO sight), tactical information from C2 systems, information from other ARCAS users in the team and rifle mechanical information. Similar to fighter pilot’s helmets, the embedded combat information is presented to the soldier as an augmented reality layer on-top of the scenery,” a statement from Elbit said.
The system has AI powering its applications and can perform functions including ballistic correction so that the reticle is in the right position. It also has navigation and communication abilities, and records video and transmits the footage to headquarters.
To show how the technology helps with motion detection, the demonstration included a rifle pointed at a multistory building that notified the shooter through a blinking square that there was movement on the second floor. This type of system can incorporate automatic target recognition and other big data applications developed from deep learning. “We are working on many things for customers, and we are in dialogue with them [the IDF],” said Chernobrov.
Inside the two-story building at the demonstration area, there was a mockup of a tunnel. After climbing down several metal rungs and walking with the rifle, testers used a helmet-mounted display to see with night vision. People could position the rifle around the corner while remaining hidden behind a wall, using the sight’s ability to “see” around the edge without putting their head around.
Company officials at the demonstration noted that an estimated 80 percent of infantry around the world have no modern sights on their weapons. Only the most advanced have thermals and day and night scopes.
Company officials noted that they are working on connecting ARCAS to units’ internal communication systems and to the communications that are the basis of radios. “Internal unit communications enables many applications, such as transmitting a picture or video from soldier to soldier, transferring coordinates, positioning of forces and allocation of targets — all while transmitting the information back to the commander and receiving orders, coordinates or targets,” added Chernobrov.
Other attributes allow soldiers to activate a bullet counter when shooting or turn on video motion detection and record when necessary. “The ARCAS system was developed basing on all the technological building blocks that Elbit Systems has achieved in the past years, especially the enhancements in data processing and analytics and AI,” Chernobrov said. Video recording and use of sensors, for instance can help in debriefings “to focus on the fighter’s strengths and gaps in order to improve his performance in real combat.”
While Elbit can’t comment on the technology that the IDF has, it notes that “the ability to identify sources of firing or movement as well as other operational capabilities such as passive range measurement, are capabilities that any Army around the globe would like to provide to its infantry soldiers. We know there are Future Soldier programs all around the world, in which Armies are seeking technological solutions that will enable them to fulfill a variety of capabilities. We believe that ARCAS is an optimal platform to achieve this.” Across the IDF, the increased use of AI and networking for soldiers meshes with the systems the force is procuring as part of its Momentum wartime plan.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. He has experience covering the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is a co-founder and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.