The race is on. Israeli defense companies are working overtime to develop a robot-based combat solution-“Advance Guard.”
Advance Guard is the codename for a program the IDF ground forces are keenly interested in with the goal of expanding the use of robotic tools on the future battlefield. Currently, robotic tools are employed mainly for surveillance (infiltrating buildings and transmitting pictures, or as unmanned ground vehicles [UGVs] like "Guardium," produced by G-NIUS, a company jointly owned and run by IAI and Elbit Systems).
The program envisions robots having an increased role in combat and clearing roads. To achieve this, the defense establishment issued an appeal, requesting the leading defense companies to submit proposals.
The basic idea is for robots to function as a strike force, leading the way in the first stage of engagement with the enemy, which usually results in heavy casualties. The defense establishment wants the industries to examine a range of possible robotic forms on the battlefield, from micro-robots to large unmanned vehicles. An essential feature of the program is that the robots will be capable of interacting with each other and not only as individual warriors.
Israel's defense industries have responded to the challenge with due seriousness and R&D is underway.
In a strategic move, IAI is about to announce 2012 as a "ground year" (after having assembled staff last year) that will be headed by Brigadier General (ret.) Shmuel Yachin, former director of R&D in the IDF.
Yachin recruited a number of former IDF engineers to compile a wish list of industrial products for the ground forces. General (ret.) Yachin told IsraelDefense that IAI is reviewing different types of robot designs, which include "see-fire" systems that can identify a target in the field and zero in on it autonomously.
"Robots will doubtlessly play a more central role in the battlefield than they do today," acknowledged Yachin, without referring to a specific development in the Advance Guard program.
Rafael and Elbit's ground departments (already several years in robotics R&D) are working tirelessly. At Aeronautics, Colonel (res.) Duddy Rokach heads the company's robotics development.
Aeronautics' ground department develops UGVs and is looking at cooperation with large vehicle companies in Israel and abroad. The company's UGVs are purposed for both military and civilian needs. The concept is to develop a robotic system that can be adapted to meet specific requirements: surveillance only or surveillance plus neutralizing fire, reconnaissance or intelligence gathering.
Aeronautics has charged a team with developing an unmanned intelligencegathering vehicle, as well as surveillance systems on manned vehicles to be equipped with a mast and camera. The company also intends to enter the field of small- to medium-sized robots weighing up to 300 kilos for military purposes. In addition, it is also looking at the possibility of investing in the development of an unmanned tank.