An especially agile and deadly stealth tank; an unmanned submarine for missions remote from Israel's borders; an unmanned helicopter capable of bearing supplies to forces on the battlefield; and a special system that will make every rifle shot accurate and deadly are only some of the new systems developed by Israel's Ministry of Defense Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) and unveiled yesterday in a special press briefing by MAFAT head Brigadier General (res.) Daniel Gold for reporters on military affairs.
MAFAT is currently conducting 1,500 research and development ventures. Yesterday's briefing shows how the IDF will deal with the security challenges facing it in the coming decades.
The main goal is preserving the IDF and Ministry of Defense's technological advantage over the countries in the region and the terrorist organizations operating in and from it. Billions of shekels are being spent each year on developments, most of them secret, which are aimed at facilitating the realization of MAFAT's vision: sealing Israel's borders, including finding a solution for the underground threat - principally the tunnels in the Gaza Strip and on the Lebanese border; eliminating terrorism; destroying enemy targets in real time throughout the Middle East; improving the survivability, mobility, and maneuverability of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) and tanks; and achieving superiority in cyberspace.
A large proportion of this work involves close and intensive connections of MAFAT with startups making their first steps towards big solutions. Some of these ideas will take years before they mature technologically into a product. Some will never materialize, as is often the case with R&D plans.
The future tank
Carmel, one of the impressive plans that MAFAT has been working on in recent years, together with the Ministry of Defense Tank Program Administration (TPA), involves the IDF's future tank. TPA is currently producing the most advanced version of the tank in use by the IDF Armored Corps - the Merkava 4. Dozens of these tanks rolling off the assembly line of the repair and maintenance center at the Tel Hashomer base each year are equipped with the most advanced technologies that make the Merkava an especially threatening, deadly, and well-protected war machine - due, among other things, to the Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd.'s Trophy active defense system, which is designed to intercept threats like advanced anti-tank missiles and RPG rockets.
The Carmel, however, will be completely different. MAFAT's plans are for a tank that will be small, agile, lightweight, easy to operate, and cheaper than the expensive tanks currently being sold on the market.
The top-secret tank's performance so far has been impressive. Demonstrations have been confined to Ministry of Defense simulations. "Its maneuvering capabilities will be very good, the team operating it will be substantially smaller - perhaps two or three soldiers, it will be powered by a hybrid electrical propulsion system, and it will also have an unmanned and groundbreaking version," Gold told the reporters.
MAFAT believes that a final decision on progress in the future tank program is about three years off. The parties who will make the decision about the program will be shown a deadly war machine that is the stuff of science fiction. It will be equipped with "transparent armor," so that the crew, which will be invisible inside it, will see events outside through an advanced system of touch screens constantly informing the crew of what the many cameras installed on it are photographing. Another possibility also currently under consideration by MAFAT is giving every crew member an advanced smart helmet, similar to the advanced helmets worn by airplane pilot, which constantly broadcasts and screen all the information needed by the soldier on the battlefield.
The future tank's most outstanding feature is its evasiveness, or as the Ministry of Defense puts it, its "invisible signature." For observation or detection systems, the tank's presence in the field will be so well hidden as to be completely invisible. "There are all sorts of methods that have enabled us to achieve this, but it won't happen tomorrow morning," Gold says. "The goal is to improve survival capabilities in the maneuvering of ground forces."
The future tank will be able to both defend itself with active defense systems and provide perimeter defense for vehicles following it if it is leading a battlefield convoy, including infantry forces operating around it. It will take the lead and detect the threat aimed at the forces, and destroy them in time. The tank will also have a solution for mines laid in its path; it will be able to detect and destroy them on the move. "As of now, we are not investing in the vehicle itself; we are investing in the technologies that will be installed on it. Several defense companies are involved in this," Gold says.
While the development of autonomous vehicles is attracting a great deal of fanfare, MAFAT is also looking ahead, with the aim of improving the capabilities of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), several models of which are already being used for missions such as border defense. The IDF has such vehicles, which are being used for border patrols, logistical transportation, and light engineering missions. Putting them into use is still slow, however, and their operational use is on a small scale.
The Ministry of Defense sees all the autonomous vehicle ventures being developed in the civilian sphere, but aimed at other purposes. While the future autonomous vehicles are designed to travel on paved roads, the IDF wants UGVs able to travel in field conditions and battle conditions, and which will have highly developed navigability capabilities, and also with remote firing capabilities.
Another development revealed yesterday by MAFAT is designed to make it possible to control an area without a presence there through the use of many hundreds of miniature sensors dispersed in it. The sensors will monitory, photograph, and listen to everything that moves in the area. "These sensors can be dropped from the air, which makes it possible to disperse them in the area and use them for monitoring. We're making great progress in this area, and have already conducted a very large and successful trial," Gold declares. Asked whether these sensors or others like them will also be able to explode next to a human target defined for them and destroy it, Gold said yes.
Another program is for the development of an unmanned submarine. There are two such plans for an autonomous miniature submarine designed for scanning and mapping missions. The unmanned submarine is being developed together with a research team from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. A larger unmanned submarine, called Kisaron, is designed for covert missions, mainly intelligence gathering. Gold says that this intriguing vessel has already undergone a trial at sea.
Other programs in various development stages include a system called "First Bullet," aimed at dramatically upgrading the use of firearms. This electro-optical system will be installed on infantry assault rifles. It facilitates hitting the target accurately with a single rifle bullet in any situation and in any firing scenario.
By using the system, developed by a tiny startup, a combatant can press the trigger, but the rifle will shoot the bullet only when the target appears in the center of the sight, thereby ensuring an accurate hit. The Ministry of Defense says that trials of the system, its use significantly increased the percentage of hits, and reduced the risk of hitting uninvolved bystanders in an urban warfare scenario.
MAFAT is also devoting a great deal of thought to air operations. It is refusing to disclose the major projects involving the next generation of UAVs that the defense industries are working on, but is unveiling programs for drones. One of these programs, funded by MAFAT, involves the use of a drone to conduct accurate sniper fire, while achieving battlefield surprise. The system will be tested in the coming year.
In addition, MAFAT is interested in a development plan by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) for building an unmanned helicopter that can bear a heavy payload for logistical purposes, while flying at speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour using an internal combustion engine installed on it. At the same time, Aeronautics is developing, together with MAFAT, the Yasuran drone, which has a maximum flight speed of 75 kilometers an hour. It is based on batteries and hybrid propulsion, and is capable of bearing payloads of up to 90 kilograms.
It will take years before the vast majority of these projects is ready. After passing a process of proving feasibility and successfully passing through a long series of trials, they will be increasingly integrated in IDF units.
"There are already successes"
As for the tunnels threat that has been facing the IDF and the defense establishment for year, and whose monstrous scope was fully revealed three years ago during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, Gold selects his words carefully: the strenuous activity by development teams in MAFAT and the defense companies aimed at development a fully effective solution to the threat - an Iron Dome for the tunnels - is classified, and the Ministry of Defense is providing little information about it. "The challenges and gaps in the matter are known," Gold says. "It is to both prevent digging and detect existing tunnels, and eventually to destroy them, or be able to map them and fight within them -we are investing in many spheres, and there are already successes. Israel is the first in the world to achieve technological successes in this matter."
The Ministry of Defense is currently promoting work to build an underground wall around the Gaza Strip as an answer to the threat of cross-border tunnels from the Gaza Strip. At the same time, the effort to find a technological solution is also proceeding: "We are working simultaneously on both the physical barrier and the technology. It is a chain of technologies and developments that will be integrated in the comprehensive solution. There are already tools in place that are being tested. We have already tested over 100 different solutions. There is already technology ready, but it is not a 100% solution."
How much is it costing us? "The answer is complicated and classified."
Asked about the budget available to him for the 1,500 development programs that teams are working on, Gold does not mention any figures, claiming that the answer is "too complicated, and in any case classified."
Each one of the three special MAFAT administrations has a separate budget from the defense budget, in addition to MAFAT's basic annual NIS 800 million R&D budget.
The three MAFAT administrations are Homa, which is responsible for air defense against rockets and missiles; the Etgar space administration, which deals with satellites; and the UAV administration. In addition to these administrations, MAFAT also has six units operating in it, two centers, including research and technological infrastructure, and R&D.
In addition to the 500 officers and civilians employed in MAFAT's unit, it subsidizes the salaries of 2,000 researchers and employees in higher education and the defense industries that it classifies as "knowledge hubs."
These 2,000 civilians are committed as part of their jobs to MAFAT's tasks in accordance with multi-year work plans, and the same is true of cooperative efforts with other defense companies for the sake of ventures of national importance.
The defense industries pay these workers' salaries, but receive subsidies from MAFAT.
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on September 6, 2017
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017