Special Operations: More New/Old Goodies


February 23, 2019: Special operations forces have found lightweight guided missiles a useful addition to the currently available GPS guided rockets (GMLRS), artillery and bombs as well as laser-guided missiles. But there are enough cases where there are not enough missile armed UAVs available to support small teams of operators tracking key individuals or small groups in remote areas. These scout teams often have to watch a specific spot for days before the target shows itself and is positively identified. If the target is not fired on quickly, he will likely get away and the search will begin again.

The solution was developed by the Israelis who merged the latest version of their Spike NLOS (Non Line Of Sight) missile with off-road vehicles to produce a version of Spike NLOS that can be quickly mounted on an off-road vehicle and transported by air (small transport or slung under a helicopter) to a remote location and drive further into hostile territory to provide round the clock availability of precision missile fire against a small stationary or moving (in a vehicle or on a motorcycle) target day or night. This mobile Spike NLOS is available to different size pallets that contain four to eight Spike NLOS missiles plus the control equipment (including radio). The latest version of Spike NLOS has a max range of 30 kilometers and is much easier for troops to become proficient at (using computer simulators and more user-friendly design)

Spike NLOS missiles weigh 70kg (155 pounds), about 50 percent more than more popular and less precise Hellfire missile. Spike NLOS can be fired at a target the operator cannot see (but someone else, with a laser designator, can see). Spike NLOS is often fired from helicopters, which also provides the laser designator. The ground version, which was first mounted on infantry armored vehicles (and used by British troops in Afghanistan from 2011 on) was also mounted on unarmored trucks (like hummers). Spike NLOS has multiple guidance systems, mainly laser and the live video feed can be used for the operator to fly the missile into to the target or simply capture an image of the selected target so the missile can home in by itself (“fire and forget”). The operator can still have Spike NLOS self-destruct or shift to another target.

The first version of Spike NLOS (a secret weapon code-named Tamuz) entered service in the early 1980s. This version required a highly trained operator to literally fly the missile all the way to the target and for two decades its existence was a military secret. After 2000 advances in guidance systems, especially “fire and forget” capability meant the expensive (it took talented troops a long time to train) Tamuz system became the highly automated Spike NLOS and was declassified. Israel successfully used Spike NLOS during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in south Lebanon and the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. Now that most of the details of what Spike NLOS is and where it came from (and what it has been through) it is an increasingly popular export item. But that is mainly because various versions of the missile (first as Tamuz then as Spike NLOS) had been in service since the 1980s, were battle tested and known to be very dependable and effective no matter what tech they used.

The airmobile Spike NLOS system if offered on another veteran Israeli system; the Tomcar off-road vehicle. This 750 kg four-wheel “dune buggy” design has been around since 2005 and is regularly used along the Israeli southern border with Gaza and Egypt. Tomcar is exported to many other nations for special operations forces or border patrol in rough terrain. The latest version of Tomcar is a two-seater built with a flatbed in the rear to carry cargo. This vehicle can carry eight Spike NLOS weapons plus the control system. Even lighter systems are available carrying only four (or even just two) missiles.

Tomcar has had an interesting history because one of its first uses, back in 2006, it was made available as a robotic vehicle. Called AvantGuard, the robotic vehicle 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 smaller roadside bombs.

AvantGuard proved adequate for guarding industrial parks, but not the vast stretches of Negev desert, along the border with Gaza. Too many things could go wrong out in the desert (obstacles in the road, hostile action) that AvantGuard could not handle. Several years of tweaks, upgrades and new software and sensors fixed all that but AvantGuard still had to be careful with the type of offroad terrain it was allowed into.

In 2008, building on the AvantGuard technology, a new firm, G-Nius, produced the Guardium. Using the same TomCar vehicle, and a remote control turret, the Guardium has better sensors and software. Guardium was 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. Guardium was seen as preferable to an earlier proposal; placing remotely controlled turrets in isolated areas, along with security cameras. If you spot some bad guys, the remotely controlled weapon can be used.

South Korea and Israel have developed their own remote control weapon systems (SGR-A1 and Samson Jr., respectively) and both countries did install some of these turrets and still use them. Guardium proved effective along the Gaza border, where Palestinians were constantly trying to cross the border, either for economic gain or to kill Israelis. Guardium eventually got better sensors, giving it better hearing than humans and a navigation system similar to those now used by driverless cars. Guardium was so successful that it was able to use its autonomous (not always monitored by a human) mode a lot more. This was largely because of the improved sensors and software that had been improved over several decades to accurately detect what is out there.

Meanwhile, the continued development of commercial lightweight off-road vehicles like MAZR and TomCar have found the military and border patrol forces to be major customers. Little modification of these vehicles is required for the commercial dune biggies and that is usually handled by the military itself, especially special operations forces that often mount new, and still classified, equipment and weapons on their off-road vehicles.


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