Israel's military avatar: Robots on the battlefield, I

Published 28 December 2009

With self-detonating grenades, thinking bullets and robot warriors, humans on the frontline could soon be a thing of the past When armies clash in the not-too-distant future, remotely operated robotic weapons will fight the enemy on land, in the air, and at sea, without a human soldier anywhere on the battlefield. The first robotic systems are already being used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and other armies across the world, and only budgetary constraints seem to be keeping science fiction from becoming reality.

In places where there is no choice but to send in troops, constantly improving broadband technologies, developed from the civilian communications industry, will serve as an essential part of the infrastructure for all modern military forces.

A helicopter that spots suspicious movement on the ground will, for instance, be able to relay a command to a drone aircraft to photograph the site and transmit the picture in real time to troops on the ground and to the command posts in the rear. Soldiers will be able to mark their target by its coordinates and with lasers, allowing missiles launched from dozens of kilometers away to be guided by global positioning systems, ensuring accuracy and destruction of the target.

The systems will be coded to prevent enemy interception of the operation. Spy satellites that today weigh several tons will be shrunk down to anything between one and 100 kilograms or less, with engines the size of postage stamps. Infantry rifles will be computerized and fire “smart” rounds telling them when and where to explode. New rockets will also be able to think by themselves to enhance their accuracy.

Haaretz’s Ora Cohen writes that Israel’s military industries, already world leaders in arms technology, are hard at work developing weaponry for the 2020s. Development of new weapons for the IDF is generally carried out with assistance and in coordination with the Defense Ministry’s research and development arm.

The Israeli military’s demands are the cornerstone of the local weapons industry, and they can be summed up in two words: miniaturization and accuracy. The former will enable the troops in the field to carry their weapons or communications equipment more easily, and the latter will help avoid civilian casualties.

Cohen notes that military censorship prevents disclosure of the Israeli arms industries’ most exciting and futuristic devices, but a good picture of what can be expected can be compiled using what is already in the public domain.

The Protector, which we are already marketing, is a vessel that sails all over in all kinds of places without a living soul on board,” says Roni Postman, vice president for R&D at Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. “It can get close up to a terrorists’ boat, address it through a loudspeaker, and open fire at it. In the past, a thing like this required a boat with seven or eight crewmen who were in constant danger. This type of remote control is one of the