JERUSALEM — Israel has adopted a new strategy for the incorporation and use of artificial intelligence across the branches of its armed forces, according to a senior Israel Defense Forces official.
The new strategy was unveiled amid the AI Week 2022 three-day event at The Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center and Tel Aviv Center for AI and Data Science at Tel Aviv University. The event included a session on the IDF’s new information and AI strategy.
A senior Israel Defense Forces official, whose name could not be used due to the sensitivity of their position, noted that the IDF is undergoing a digital transformation in dealing with AI in all its branches and the commands. This will be the first time the IDF has a multi-branch and multi-command plan for use of AI.
For the IDF, the strategy is part of a belief that data and AI has a major role for winning future conflicts, processing the vast amount of data being generated by various sensors, transforming it into intelligible information and delivering it where it needs to go.
“[It enables the IDF to be] more effective, faster and more efficient. Data is the dimension that is most flexible and adaptable. We fight in many arenas with new threats and challenges and this allows us great flexibility,” the official said.
Reports indicate artificial intelligence played a key role in the Israel conflict with Hamas in Gaza in May 2021, and artificial intelligence is increasingly being incorporated into systems developed by Israeli defense companies, such as rifles, bombs and other systems, meaning the IDF now has an increasing array of platforms that use AI.
The IDF opted to release an unclassified version to foster engagement with its partners.
“It was cleared by the general staff and it was very important for us to create an unclassified version; this allows us to have this kind of conversation with industry, academy and partners overseas. This is important for us,” the official said.
The strategy will be carried out through a new centralized AI department that was established as part of an overall digital transformation of the IDF pushed by Israel Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi over the last several years. Digital transformation is a centerpiece of Israel’s multi-year Momentum plan that was announced in 2020, and it’s involved pushing information to units on the front lines and developing new units such as the Multi-Dimensional unit.
The IDF’s goal is not just to have some systems that use artificial intelligence, but rather to have it be systematically incorporated across the military. The senior officer says that the deeper transformation impacts both the way the IDF is fighting in different domains in the field, as well as pushing technology to the edge of the front line, whether in the navy, air force or ground forces. For individual soldiers, that means potentially using augmented reality technologies that have been available to pilots for many years. That enables the IDF to push relevant knowledge to the field in real time.
“To reach every person, you have to simplify all this data and knowledge, even if it comes in real time. If I give you 1,000 points of interest as a person [i.e a soldier at the frontline], it won’t make sense to you. We put a lot of effort to simplifying that picture, when it comes to its version for the single soldier or small unit somewhere out there, explained the official. “Of course for the general staff, you have a lot more data available and you have experts explaining that to commanders, which you don’t have in the field.”
The IDF strategy spells out multiple scenarios that involve using sensors from various platforms to gather data on potential threats and send that information to systems that can respond. Data collected from the air, ground or sea can be brought together and fused with AI, creating a common operating picture for the armed forces.
“All the forces work on same data set; from one war room and one true picture as much as possible, [even] if you have communication lag, eventually it is one picture,” the official said.
The IDF also said that using AI will help avoid collateral damage.
“We always aim for low collateral damage. That is our assumption. Keeping that as a constant, and doing a lot more, means you have to be using advanced algorithms,” said the official. “It’s a major guideline for us as we go about it [incorporating AI].”
Part of that means keeping a human-in-the-loop. While algorithm’s can do much of the work humans had to do in the past, officials still want a human observing and approving any decisions.
“The human part of the circle is more the decision making and supervision, than data preparation,” said the official. “Where we are at this moment, we always have a person supervising. It’s hard to speculate about the future.”
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.