The Defense Ministry has issued a tender for the development of a light-weight robot that will be used to enter dangerous tunnels filled with explosives and to broadcast critical data to IDF combat engineering units tasked with subterranean warfare.

The tender, issued by the ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure, is for a mechanism that can be carried on a soldier’s back and perform complex scans of underground structures.

Ideally, the robot will use a range of sensors to collect information and transmit it to the unit operating it, the head of the IDF’s Mobility and Robotics Department, Maj. Lior Trabelsi, was quoted as saying by the army’s official website.

Subterranean combat poses high risks for soldiers due to unstable structures, booby traps and a lack of light and air. The IDF is therefore keen on enhancing its ability to dispatch advanced robots into such environments.

Currently, it uses two US-made robots – iRobot and Foster – to carry out a range of functions that allow soldiers to reduce their exposure to life-threatening situations. The iRobot can be thrown through windows into buildings that might be booby trapped or filled with terrorists, moving around a room and sending back visual data. It can navigate staircases, travel through water and carry night-vision cameras. The Foster robot is used to deal with explosive devices.

The new robot being sought by the Defense Ministry will be able to map out tunnels and bunkers, providing combat engineering troops a precise picture of their target before they make their next move.

The IDF’s Ground Forces Command is planning to increase its number of robots and unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) in the coming years, the IDF said Wednesday.

UGVs under development include Reliable Partner, which will take the form of an armored personnel carrier and carry weapons systems. According to Trabelsi it will be used as a “forward guard” for soldiers.

“It will be able to maneuver while locating bombs and the sources of [enemy] fire,” decreasing the risks posed to soldiers, he said. “It can stay in the field, carry out precise missions and provide a relative advantage.”

The robot is being developed jointly by the IDF and the Defense Ministry, and is currently at the research and development stage, ahead of an initial prototype.

The IDF’s Southern Command has been using UVGs in recent years to help secure the Gaza border, the scene of frequent Palestinian attacks. Existing UVGs, such as the Guardium, which was developed jointly by Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit, are equipped with advanced sensors and are used to patrol the Gaza security fence in all weather conditions.

In 2015, a new UVG, called Border Guard, is expected to begin patrolling that border.

The remote-control system is based on a Ford 350 pickup truck platform and, according to Trabelsi, will have its own surveillance sensors and weapons system.

“Its means of communications will be improved, and the control will be different,” he stated. “This is an upgrade of all aspects of the existing system.”

Every battalion involved in securing the Gaza border will have its own Border Guard UVG, which will be operated out of a single control room.

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