The Israel Ministry of Defense has chosen Fire Weaver, a networked sensor-to-shooter system, to help revolutionize the Israel Defense Forces.
The system connects forces on the battlefield to a network that works with advanced computer vision technology and artificial intelligence algorithms to aid in targeting for commanders and soldiers.
The value of the current contact is in confidential but estimated in the hundreds of millions of Israeli shekels, which could be $50 million or more.
Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the system allows commanders to prioritize fire allocation and find the best shooter for the target. It also minimizes friendly fire and collateral damage. These are increasingly important features for battles in urban environments that are likely congested with civilians and where enemies can hide. Israel has faced this type of battleground in Gaza, Lebanon and recent conflicts, which have pit militaries with the latest technologies and access to data against complex adversaries.
The new system allow leaders to use a host of resources at the tactical level, from drones to forward observers who are networked so that military leaders can see the same battlefield and targets from different angles. An increasingly digitized battlefield requires a system to digest all the data coming in from various sensors and potential shooters.
Fire Weaver gives commanders control of the full process and is complementary to C4I systems, Rafael officials said.
“It provides fighters with real-time accurate battle information, displayed directly on their weapon sights and prevents mistakes,” they said.
Rafael officials see the system as a milestone for the IDF’s battlefield digitization effort and a force-multiplier. The IDF is seeking a variety of new programs from future fighting vehicles to new artillery as part of an overhaul in the next decade. Those systems will be paired with its F-35s and UAV capabilities. The Fire Weaver technology was part of a recent contract with the Germany army for a ‘glass battlefield’ project; and Rafael expects the system to be integrated into western militaries in the future.
A representative from the company’s marketing and business development said the system is an important step toward digitizing the battlefield and increasing unit engagement rates and safety. For example, a decade ago, if a soldier in the field with an M-16 couldn’t hit a target, it would take a long time for another soldier to verify the miss and then hit the target themselves. This meant it would take longer to close the “sensor-to-shooter loop…the duration was not enough to hit the time critical targets.” She also said the system will aid militaries in high intensity conflicts to increase engagement rates while keeping safety standards.
Rafael has used artificial intelligence in other programs, such as its SPICE bombs. In Fire Weaver, the component assists the commander in making a decision based on what the network sees throughout the battlefield. This allows it to calculate, in real-time, the information it receives from the sensors, so the commander can quickly make a decision, as opposed to gathering the data himself.
The system is based on electro-optics and image matching and also can operate in a GPS denied environment. Fire Weaver shares the information among forces and makes the calculations to find the best weapon system and unit to use against the target. The commander must still approve the decision and the selected soldier must approve the weapon to hit the target, ensuring a soldier remains in the loop. To do this, the system links the weapons systems available on the battlefield, implementing the protocols the commander has fed into the technology and also conducting battle damage assessment.
Forces using the system must decide who, and which, weapons will be linked to the network. The current contract with the IDF foresees the system being delivered in 2022 and the process of demonstrating the system goes back to 2017.
“We see it being introduced in the future with NATO customers and others,” Rafael officials said.
Seth Frantzman has been covering conflict in the Middle East since 2010 as a researcher, analyst and correspondent for different publications. In recent years he has focused on the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and he is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.