February 11, 2011:
Israel continues to develop UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles), the latest one being the Nahshon, a cargo vehicle that can carry two tons and is able to operate by remote control, or by itself, in a combat zone. Nahshon builds on years of experience with earlier Israeli UGVs, and thousands of hours of operation of these vehicles (especially Guardium) in combat zones. Nahshon is expected to be ready for service within five years. That's how long it will take to make the guidance system completely autonomous in any kind of terrain. This has been a goal for many years, but the team developing the Nahshon believe they are close, real close.
Remotely controlled armed vehicles like Guardium are already used to reinforce the remotely controlled gun/sensor towers or patrol areas where there are blind spots. This began five years ago, when the AvantGuard vehicle was introduced. This one used sensors and software that enabled it to patrol along planned routes, and was capable of some cross country operation as well. The AvantGuard mounted a remote controlled gun turret equipped with a 7.62mm machine-gun. The vehicle had digital cameras facing every direction, and used pattern recognition to identify potential threats (like people sneaking around where they are not supposed to be), or obstacles on the road. The idea was that a pair of human operators could control a dozen or more AvantGuard vehicles. This system was particularly effective at night, because it had night vision and moved quietly. Weighing only 1.3 tons, the AvantGuard was protected against rifle fire and fragments from shells and roadside bombs. AvantGuard was adequate for guarding industrial parks, but not the vast stretches of Negev desert, along the border with Gaza.
Building on the AvantGuard technology, another firm later developed the Guardium. Using the same TomCar vehicle, and remote control turret, the Guardium has better sensors and software. Guardium is pitched as "smart" enough to be used in urban areas, and to serve as an emergency response vehicle. That is, these would be stationed along isolated stretches of border, ready to drive off to deal with any terrorists who had gotten through the fence. The Guardium would thus arrive before a human quick reaction team, which would be stationed farther away. Over a dozen Guardium UGVs patrol the Lebanese and Gaza borders, and more are being added as more experience is gained, and tweaks are made to the design and operation of the vehicle.
This is part of five year long trend, as Israel has automated it's security along the Gaza and Lebanese borders. Vidcams, with magnification and night vision capability, cover much of the border where Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists try to plant bombs next to Israeli patrol routes, or to try and get through the security fence.
The Gaza security fence is not just a fence, but a network of sensors for detecting Palestinian terrorists attempting to cross, or set up bombs for use against Israeli patrols. The Israeli border with Gaza is 51 kilometers long, and most of it is in desert or semi-desert terrain. For a long time, most of the border was patrolled by troops in vehicles, while parts of it, near gates, were also guarded by manned watchtowers. But the Palestinian terrorists have been persistent in attacking the fence, and trying to get through it. None have ever succeeded, and survived. But the patrols were often attacked. One Israeli soldier was kidnapped four years ago, and some are killed each year.
The solution has been a system of unmanned towers and vehicles. The Sentry-Tech pillbox towers were developed seven years ago. These are unmanned, armored towers, about 5 meters (15 feet tall) and two meters (six feet) in diameter. At the top of the tower is an armored shelter that conceals a remotely controlled machine-gun. This technology is similar to that used for many armored vehicles. The tower also contains vidcams, and other sensors. But the remotely controlled machine-gun has a vidcam that can see at night and the ability to enlarge and enhance the image. A radar system has been added, which is turned on when it gets foggy. The operators are at a central location (and are mostly female soldiers). If intruders are detected, one of the soldiers at the control center, opens the top of the tower and brings out the machine-gun. The 12.7mm machine-gun has a range of 2,000 meters. Some towers use a 7.62mm machine-gun, with a range of 800 meters. Allowing for some overlap, 16-17 of these towers can cover the entire Gaza border. Dozens of Palestinian terrorists have been killed trying to reach the areas guarded by the towers, and many more fled when the remote control machine-guns opened up.
But for most of the Gaza security fence, the fixed cameras can cover everything. The troops monitoring the video or radar work four hour shifts, as staring at a screen does wear you down. Remote operators of UGVs sometimes adopt similar work patterns, if the vehicles are moving through particularly difficult terrain.