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Sunday, January 20, 2013
Robotics on the Battlefield

Robotics on the Battlefield
The fighting expected in urban areas will lead military organizations to
assign many activities to robots. Colonel (Res.) Atay Shelach, formerly the
commander of the IDF Engineer Corps’ Yahalom unit, in a special review of
the evolution of this activity in the IDF

Atai Shelach 20/1/2013

The use of assorted unmanned vehicles in various military organizations
around the world, as in the IDF, is the outcome of the evolution of the
threats and the attempt to provide effective solutions for them, along with
technological development. This development is easy to demonstrate by
reviewing the integration of robots in the IDF.

Generally, the use of robots as a worldview is intended to keep the
warfighters as far away as possible from the source of danger, and provide a
professional operational solution to the threat. In Israel, the use of
robots was, until recently, confined primarily to the bomb squads of the
Israel Police and to Yahalom – the special assignment engineering unit of
the IDF Combat Engineering Corps. In recent years, UGVs (Unmanned Ground
Vehicles) were introduced in routine security border protection roles as
well. Until the early 1990s, the only robots the IDF had were wheeled robots
for urban scenarios, such as the attempts made to neutralize the famous
missile that landed in Allenby Street in Tel Aviv during the First Gulf War.
These British-made HOBO robots were designed to operate in urban areas and
deal with objects suspected as explosive charges and various unexploded

Since the 1990s, Hezbollah’s IEOD (Improvised Explosive Ordnance Device)
planting capabilities have constantly improved. The organization upgraded
its explosive devices and its detonating systems, and IDF units encountered
more and more IEOD 'arenas' activated in smart and sophisticated ways. This
led to casualties, not only among infantry forces performing routine
security missions in the 'security zone' of Southern Lebanon in those days,
but also among the men of the IDF Combat Engineering Corps’ bomb disposal
unit called in to deal with the IEODs.

Two tragic incidents, which constituted the 'watershed', come to mind. The
first incident occurred in the summer of 1993 in Wadi El-Faresh, Southern
Lebanon, when a detachment from the engineering company of the Golani
infantry brigade stepped into an IEOD 'arena' and eight of its men were
killed. During the subsequent rescue operation by a bomb disposal team, the
pathfinder and an officer from the bomb disposal unit, the late aptain Avi
Fisher, were also killed. After this incident, the IDF set to work in order
to improve and upgrade its abilities for dealing with IEODs.

In effect, this improvement was only achieved after the subsequent incident,
which occurred near the Afarsek-Taibe axis in September 1995. By this time,
a bomb disposal robot had already been acquired, but at that time it had not
yet entered operational service and was still undergoing quality trials.
During this incident, another officer from the bomb disposal unit, the late
Nitai Sheftes, was killed while clearing the route and stepping into an IEOD
'arena' obstacle. Both late officers were forced to deal with "chest height
IEODs" (a term that led to a revision of the concept of dealing with IEODs)
without having any other tools available to them, and paid for this with
their lives. This led to a change of concept and to the development of a
different concept for dealing with explosive obstacles, in which robots were

In effect, the robot replaced the warfighter in the initial approach to the
IEOD. This stage would take place after several preliminary activities had
been completed, as part of a procedure that eventually came to be known as
"Nohal Kvarnit" (Captain Procedure) for the methodical, comprehensive
handling of IEOD arenas.

Since that time, and until the IDF withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May
2000, robots were employed as part of the procedure of dealing with IEODs,
and the IDF suffered fatalities in any case where robots were not employed.
One example that comes to mind is the incident at the J-shaped road curve
near the Beaufort castle, in April 1999, where Staff Sergeant Noam Barnea
was killed.

Even prior to that, but mainly during the 'Second Intifada' in the Gaza and
Judea & Samaria sectors, the need arose to incorporate robotic vehicles in
the route clearing operations. For this purpose, the IDF developed
"Keter-Paz", an ATV driven or dispatched ahead of the main force in order to
investigate or disrupt the suspected points. In addition to this ATV, the
IDF set to work developing autonomous bulldozers, for the task of overcoming
obstacles within a threatened medium and in order to minimize the danger to
the bulldozer operators. This project materialized after another officer
from the Yahalom unit, the late Ian Rochanski, was killed in the Avivim
sector along the Lebanon border on January 19, 2004, while exposing and
attempting to deal with suspected IEOD points. The familiar projects that
are still with us today are the "Raam Hashachar" D9N bulldozer and its more
advanced version, designated “Puh Hadov”. The idea is similar in both
versions: to carry out a dedicated bulldozer mission in the context of
overcoming explosive obstacles, without exposing the operators to sources of
danger, on the ground as well as in the bulldozer.

Another threat evolved during the Second Intifada, mainly in urban areas, in
connection with operations for capturing buildings and apprehending wanted
suspects. This threat gave rise to an operational need of detecting and
identifying sources of danger, notably IEODs and booby-traps, before the
forces enter the objective. For this purpose, dedicated robots (such as the
EyeBall R1 robot by ODF Optronics) were characterized and purchased.
It is important to note that in dealing with IEODs as well as in urban
areas, the robot’s function is to keep the warfighter away from the source
of danger while still enabling the execution of the required mission. In
this case, the 'robotic technology' is less important and what matters
primarily are the capabilities provided to the force owing to the presence
of the robotic systems.

However, another threat that evolved and gained momentum during the Second
Intifada, in the Gaza Strip as well as in the Judea and Samaria District,
was the explosives workshop threat. Robots were employed to deal with this
threat – mainly to enable safer entrance into the workshops, but also for
dealing with and neutralizing the explosive devices after they were taken
out of the workshop. I remember one particular incident where an IEOD was
built into a basketball. Good intelligence and effective action taken by the
forces, which included the employment of robots, produced the desired
result; The robot took the ball out of the house and destroyed it remotely,
without exposing the troopers to any unnecessary risks. However, that was
only one example. Many activities involving the employment of robots in
urban areas were performed in the context ofOperation Defensive Shield in
March-May 2002): from inspecting suspicious objects in alleys, through
handling of IEODs (such as countless pipe charges) to dealing with elaborate
IEOD arenas, as in the case of the rescue operation that took place in the
Jenin refugee camp.

The last threat that emerged and gained momentum was the tunnel threat. In
the beginning, we employed wildcat methods in order to investigate, detect,
disrupt and counter, to any extent possible, the terrorists' activities of
excavating and building their sub-soil infrastructure. Subsequently, we
established a dedicated force as part of the IDF Gaza division, which
operated courageously against the threat. This activity – which lacked any
dedicated robots in the beginning – exacted a heavy toll: two officers,
Moshe Taranto and Aviv Hakani, were killed. These tragic events led the IDF
and the Combat Engineering Corps to establish a dedicated element within the
Yahalom unit, assigned specifically to deal with the tunnel threat.
Eventually, this element came to be known as the Samur company. This force
was equipped with dedicated robots, whose function was to scan and
investigate the sub-soil before the warfighters entered the tunnel. Once
again, we applied the same principle we had applied in our operations
against the IEOD threat: keeping the fighter away from the source of danger
while still executing the mission as required.

It should be stressed that the employment of robots, present and future,
will not completely prevent fatalities and exposing the warfighters to
unnecessary risks. However, it will definitely minimize these risks and make
operations safer to execute and more professional.

Looking to the future realistically and taking into consideration the new
threats imposed on us almost daily, I believe that the employment of robots
will only intensify. They will become more widely available – among infantry
units, for example – and would no longer be the exclusive privilege of
combat engineering units. The fighting we can expect in urban areas in Gaza
and Lebanon in the face of cuttingedge weapon systems, notably advanced
antitank weaponry and explosive charges employed by Hamas and Hezbollah,
will cause the IDF to employ robots for many activities normally assigned to
infantry. These include advancing through city streets and entering
buildings, underground spaces and Kasbah-type city sectors. As previously
stated, the robot will not replace the fighters, but will constitute a
complementary, essential capability in executing the various missions, in
urban areas and elsewhere.

This capability is required in order to keep the fighters away from sources
of danger and avoid unnecessary friction during the various stages of the
missions. For example, before a force breaks into a house, a robot will be
dispatched to place an explosive device for breaching the door, thereby
enabling the force to execute the mission safely and professionally.

Robots are the 'next thing' on the battlefield. The first 'buds' are already
visible and will proliferate in the not-toodistant future. It is an
excellent solution whose contribution cannot be measured at this point, yet
we will all be grateful for in due time it.

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