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Rafael seeks to outfit IDF with drones, robots that spot threats by themselves

Defense contractor displays new artificial intelligence-powered military hardware, techniques that it says will shape the battlefield of the future

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An autonomous robotic dog manufactured by the Rafael defense contractor equipped with advanced sensors that can be used by soldiers in urban warfare, as seen in a demonstration of the device on December 24, 2020. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)
An autonomous robotic dog manufactured by the Rafael defense contractor equipped with advanced sensors that can be used by soldiers in urban warfare, as seen in a demonstration of the device on December 24, 2020. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

The Rafael defense contractor on Sunday unveiled a number of new weapons and systems, including miniature drones and a robotic dog, which it plans to sell to the Israel Defense Forces and foreign militaries and that it claims will change the face of modern warfare.

The company, one of the country’s leading weapons manufacturers, sees these technological developments as a step toward a more interconnected and intelligent future battlefield, one in which many of the impediments to proper communication between various units and vehicles have been removed, granting the entire military access to up-to-date information and intelligence.

“Today, we can really talk about the ability to connect — in real time — the plane, the helicopter, the drone, the tank, the soldier, the half-track on every front, at all times, constantly,” said Rafael CEO Yoav Har-Even.

According to Har-Even, a former head of the IDF Ground Forces, such interoperability was once impossible due to the inability of various communication systems within the military to work with one another.

“Today, the technology enables the strategies,” he said.

Improved communication between various branches of the military is a central points of IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi’s Momentum Plan. A main lynchpin of that plan is a powerful mapping and communication system produced by Rafael known as Smart Trigger, which allows for the rapid sharing of intelligence between units and allows commanders to easily determine which troops are in the best position to attack a target.

Rafael is developing a number of devices that can grant access to this system — and the information it contains, which was once only available to senior commanders — to individual troops on the battlefield.

“All the capabilities of intelligence collections, data analysis and assault will be made accessible not only to aerial forces, but also to ground forces, down to the level of the infantryman,” the company said.

The defense contractor also demonstrated a number of new products to reporters, including small drones that are capable of flying inside buildings to map the structure and locate potential threats, as well as tiny robotic dogs that can similarly reach hard-to-access places. Such small, highly maneuverable devices are seen as critical for fighting in the types of urban settings in which the Israel Defense Forces expects to wage future battles.

A number of autonomous drones manufactured by the Rafael defense contractor equipped with advanced sensors that can be used by soldiers in urban warfare, as seen in a demonstration of the devices on December 24, 2020. (Rafael Advanced Defense Systems)

These largely autonomous machines are powered by artificial intelligence systems, allowing them to conduct missions on behalf of their human handlers independently.

“This advanced capability is unique to Rafael and is based on one of the most advanced artificial intelligence algorithms in the world in this field,” the firm said.

This ability to identify potential threats and categorize and prioritize them, dubbed Automatic Target Recognition (ATR), is already in use in a number of Rafael systems, including the SPICE 250 missile, where advanced electro-optical sensors identify targets and steer the projectile toward them.

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