JERUSALEM — Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has partnered with French company Atos Information Technology on a project involving the creation of a so-called glass battlefield, in which unmanned aerial systems and combat vehicles are used to create a 3D picture of mobile operations in real-time. The work will be performed for the German Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support.
The term “glass battlefield” — sometimes referred to as a “transparent battlefield” in other countries — comes from the German phrase “gläsernen gesichtsfeldes.” A real-time, 3D picture of a battlefield would bolster situational awareness and provide additional knowledge to leadership.
Winning a German tender for this project, which continues through 2025, gives Atos and Rafael a chance to demonstrate existing and future battlefield technologies linked to the digitization of operations. “It opens a direct dialogue with the Bundeswehr [German military] on the important subjects of incorporating artificial intelligence, computer vision and advanced C4I technologies in the battlefield,” a Rafael spokesman said. Germany has shown interest in using drone swarms controlled by AI to support combat vehicles and future battle tanks.
Rafael foresees supporting a future battlefield made up of “interconnected platforms, sensor information moving in a ‘tactical internet of things,’ advanced and immune communications as a basis to allow seamless connectivity between UAS, vehicles, and soldiers on the ground,” the spokesman said. The company will supply its BNET technology, which is part of the company’s family of software-defined radios, allowing the use of a single antenna to simultaneously receive numerous frequencies.
“This gives a huge advantage for supporting the creation of superior situational awareness of the battlefield,” the spokesman noted.
This BNET also addresses various challenges on the battlefield, such as connecting to multiple sensors and shooters. This means a single radio can receive data from multiple drones and can connect to soldiers and other vehicles, transferring data between the unmanned systems and the soldiers. Rafael claims the technology is immune from cyber and electronic warfare attacks.
The Israeli company is also bringing its Fire Weaver technology to the partnership to connect "all of the sensors and effectors in the battlefield into a flat network, providing the key ingredients to rapidly close the sensor-to-shooter loop,” according to the Rafael spokesman. The expectation is that the networked sensor-to-shooter system will reduce friendly fire incidents, quicken missions and mitigate collateral damage. It’s also expected to provide more accurate GPS and 3D situational awareness with “augmented reality” so forces can identify friendlies and select points of interest for all to see and investigate.
“In a transparent battlefield, Fire Weaver provides a highly accurate common visual language between the soldiers, UAS and armored vehicles to allow them to perform complex scenarios and share targets,” the spokesman said.
Yoav Wemuth, vice president and head of Rafael’s C3I directorate, said today’s battlefields are undergoing far-reaching changes that affect the coordination of land, sea and air forces. But BNET, Fire Weaver and the work Rafael will perform with Atos will enable “assimilation of these systems into the Bundeswehr [and] will lead to a number of significant changes: It will provide a common visual language between different types of units not only from the Bundeswehr but also from allied forces, which share the same threats and missions, connecting multiple sensors and shooters,” the executive said.
The glass battlefield project has ramifications beyond Germany. Militaries are facing the need to create these kinds of connected “flat” networks, where each war fighter, vehicle and drone can see the same information.
“This is where solutions offering a common visual language to create a 3D picture” is so important, Rafael’s spokesman said. “One of the most challenging tasks is how to create a real-time, relevant 3D intelligence using minimal bandwidth.”
The German project will include an annual demonstration of the latest technology through 2025.
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.