Israeli military leaders have decided to boost spending on command, control, communications, computer and information (C4I) technologies to connect land, sea and air forces into a single, secure, coordinated digital network.
Sources say the military's recently approved five-year modernisation plan earmarks several hundred million shekels in annual C4I spending (1 US dollar is 4.02 Israeli new shekels). This represents a 15 per cent jump from earlier, and reflects the IDF's high-priority drive for networked multi-force operations.
The military's multi-year plan includes improvements in "computational capabilities" to enable "synergetic, joint force operations". Israel's top brass has also moved to strengthen the C4I directorate through expanded mission responsibility, greater budget authority and a significant bolstering of technical and support staff.
The head of the Israeli Defence Forces' (IDF's) C4I directorate now has three brigadier generals reporting to him, two from his own staff and one serving with the military's Ground Forces Command. The new reorganisation plan restores budget authority to the C4I directorate, as well as nearly 40 per cent of its staff, which had been transferred to the Ground Forces Command prior to the Lebanon War.
The war against the Hezbollah caught the IDF "at an uncomfortable intersection" with regard to its C4I capabilities. During the 34-day war, the service was forced to improvise for troops on the move. "Mobile C4I was within reach, but not quite within our grasp," said Maj Gen Ami Shafran, head of the General Staff's C4I Directorate.
As a result, some brigade and division commanders elected to remain behind in stationary or semi-mobile command posts - where they were assured full situational awareness via the IDF network - rather than moving forward with their forces.
But the war debacle, in which Israel flattened huge tracts of Lebanon and seriously dislocated life for the civilian population while making relatively little progress in its resolve to 'finish' the Hezbollah, led to a realisation that it needed to better prepare itself for more high-friction scenarios.
The IDF's new multiyear plan allots sufficient funds to provide war fighters with "all the bandwidth they need". Moreover, the plan allows the C4I Directorate to bring the capabilities to the forces in the field, rather than the other way around.
By 2012, the IDF plans to extend its fibre-optic 'Gold Avnet' high-speed broadband network to mobile ground, air and naval spheres. Through new wide-area wireless WiMAX technology, the military plans to fortify its Gold Avnet infrastructure to serve all IDF needs through a single secure network.
By the end of the decade, the fortified Gold Avnet and other programmes entering development will support huge volumes of voice, data, video and air-, sea-, land- and space-generated images. "The idea is to fuse information into a network that allows the soldier to share information with a tank or an aircraft," Gen Shafran says.
By the end of 2008, the IDF will be the first military in the world to deploy WiMAX wireless point-to-point and point-to-multipoint technology, which was originally developed for commercial applications. Israeli firm Tadiran Communications, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, has been awarded the initial $15 million contract.
The system, called Bro@dnet, is a high-capacity broadband IP-based voice, data and multimedia communication network that can cover city-size areas, and will be able to unify various operational and command elements into a single, encrypted strategic Intranet.
Bro@dnet provides both secure data encryption as well as a high-level quality of service, features that were generally considered mutually exclusive. The WiMAX wireless network should ease deployment of planned information-fusion technologies as well as the military's planned next-generation tactical radio. Known as Barak Rahok (Far Lightning), it is also being developed by Tadiran.
Yet another high-priority arena for C4I investment is on an advanced, mobile and reliable means of receiving protected, downlinked satellite data. Military leaders at the C4I Directorate, have supported requirements for a dedicated IDF communications satellite. But the new focus on downlink capabilities marks a more realistic capability enhancement.