JERUSALEM — Israel is putting its soldiers through a series of simulations and live drills as part of a program called Edge of Tomorrow, the government announced this month.
The program falls under the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development and is carried out with local defense company Elbit Systems.
The program is meant to strengthen “the synergy between dismounted combat soldiers and their teams and [enable] optimal operational value through numerical and empirical processes based on research, simulation, live field scenarios, and more,” according to a mid-May statement from the ministry.
It also aims to supply new tools for the future battlefield through analysis of how technology can be integrated to “improve a range of mission capabilities including lethality, situational awareness, survivability, stamina, cognitive load, enemy exposure” and other issues faced by dismounted soldiers.
The ministry said the program will look at “augmented reality goggles, a computerized assault rifle system, a digital head-mounted display system, hostile fire detection technology, a location-tracking system in GPS-denied environments, tactile sleeves for navigation and command transmittance, and a voice command system (similar to systems used on smartphones).”
In photos from a capability demonstration, soldiers are seen using Elbit Systems’ SmartEye head-mounted eyewear as well as its E-LynX digital communications system, while wearing a tactile sleeve made by American firm TrekAce.
Getting new technology to front-line forces is also a goal of the multiyear Momentum plan, launched by the Israel Defense Forces several years ago. This has included a new multidimensional unit as well as an increased use of artificial intelligence and swarm technology for aerial and ground drones. Israel is also rolling out new lasers for air defense, among a plethora of other technology across its armed services.
In comparing the two, Momentum is about moving new technology to the military, whereas Edge of Tomorrow focuses on simulating and evaluating the effectiveness of technology and choosing what should be deployed.
A defense ministry source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, noted Edge of Tomorrow is a research and development program initiated four years ago, driven by a recognition that extremist militant groups have an advantage over traditional forces in modern urban warfare. The source noted the program “may help our dismounted troops to be superior in ‘chest to chest’ close-quarter battle situations.”
A senior manager at a local defense company with knowledge of the program who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as the individual was not authorized to speak to the media, said Edge of Tomorrow aims to bring a dramatic transformation to the military’s lethality. To understand how new technology can benefit units, the program is not only looking at replacing tech in the hands of the individual soldier, but it’s also objectively measuring platoon-level units.
In other words, instead of individually asking soldiers what they think of new equipment, technology will be measured by how it improves a unit’s performance over time. Both the government and industry sources pointed out this differs from the past, when soldiers might have received new technology, but without a measurement of overall unit effectiveness.
The first evaluation round began a year ago and ended in April. The second round recently began and will result in an update to Israel’s concept of operations, the ministry source said.
Edge of Tomorrow “offers a solid method for evaluating dismounted platoon-level optimization. So [the] IDF may use it for some parts of its multiyear [Momentum plan],” the ministry source added.
The concept is to provide a base architecture for future abilities, which could involve a range of companies. Manned-unmanned teaming isn’t currently part of the program, but the architecture could eventually support those systems. The infrastructure that comes out of Edge of Tomorrow will be fully open to unmanned systems in the future, the industry source said.
Both sources stressed that key to this program is measuring the effectiveness of new tech to identify what’s worth developing — and what should be discontinued.
“Because it is mature enough, that allows us to dramatically increase unit lethality, doing it in a way that is measurable,” the industry source said.
Edge of Tomorrow is meant to ultimately deliver thousands of systems, as well as technology later developed based on those systems, for operational use, the industry source explained. All of this is to help commanders better see where their forces are in real time so soldiers can receive information from the communications network about threats, the source added.
Haim Delmar, executive vice president and general manager of C4I and cyber at Elbit Systems., said “the purpose of this program is to equip combat soldiers, teams and platoons with innovative capabilities that will significantly improve their survivability and transform their mission effectiveness.”
It’s also meant to “enable optimal operational value for the dismounted combat soldiers by strengthening the synergy between them and their team,” noted Lt. Col. Shlomi Buskila of the Directorate of Defense Research and Development.
According to the industry source, simulations are currently focused on the type of adversaries Israel has already faced, meaning they’re working on asymmetric warfare capabilities for dismounted forces in both urban and open terrain, where a large force might confront threats in a civilian-heavy environment.
Seth J. Frantzman is the Israel correspondent for Defense News. He has covered conflict in the Mideast since 2010 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.