A number of years from now, an IDF battalion commander leading soldiers on the border of a hostile territory will be able pull out a handheld screen and log in to an IDF cloud computing service that will download the location of enemy combatants hiding in the buildings nearby while also receiving an aerial view of his sector from an overhead drone.
The commander will be able take this information and order precision strikes on targets before the enemy can know what is coming.
Further back from the front, a senior officer could be sitting at regional command headquarters, assessing data on rocket attacks.
The commander will be able receive automatic, computer-generated suggestions on where to focus the IDF’s firepower to extinguish the enemy fire as soon as possible. The technology he would be using is called network intelligence.
According to Lt.-Col. David Tapuhi, head of the Doctrine and Training Department at the IDF’s C4I Branch, none of these scenarios is science fiction. In fact, Tapuhi told The Jerusalem Post recently, they will materialize with time and revolutionize the battlefield.
C4I stands for command and control, computers, communications, and intelligence, and it is these components, Tapuhi said, that will be at the heart of the future IDF’s abilities.
During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Tapuhi was pursuing academic studies. He dropped everything and rushed to the front, helping the paratroopers fight the war, bringing his experience in military communications with him.
Before the 2006 war, he served as the communications officer for a battalion in the Golani Brigade, and later, he became the communications officer for the Paratroopers Brigade. After the Second Lebanon War, Tapuhi held senior communication roles in the Northern Command.
Throughout it all, he saw the C4I Branch play an increasingly influential role, edging towards today’s network-based combat.
Now, Tapuhi is responsible for overseeing how individual soldiers and whole units in the Ground Forces prepare for war. During wartime, Tapuhi would also be the one activating the C4I units, right across the Ground Forces.
He spoke of a three-stage process of evolution. Up until 2006, he said, the C4I Branch was limited to improving the ability of combat forces on the battlefield. The second stage occurred after 2006, when the branch made new levels of effective war fighting techniques possible. Now, the third stage has begun: creating new capabilities from scratch.
“The influence is now so dramatic. We are no longer merely assisting, but rather, really influencing and shaping the battle,” Tapuhi said.
The first time such abilities came to light was during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when Ground Forces units in Gaza used digitally generated maps, and swapped real-time visual intelligence images with one another, the air force, and with Military Intelligence.
The C4I Branch brought to that war the concept of connectivity: the ability to integrate data from across the battlefield and deliver it straight the unit headquarters, creating what Tapuhi called network- based combat.
“We linked up many sensors that created one picture, which then reached the commander. The commanders did not waste any time on collecting data, or trying to access visual intelligence on drones.
Instead, they received a full picture, enabling them to make decisions,” Tapuhi said.
The next stage, he said, is to shape the battlefield through network intelligence.
“This will have a very wide influence. Network intelligence is the ability to not only process data and make it accessible as a product, but also, for a system to analyze the figures, and make recommendations” he explained.
“In some ways, it will replace thinking and planning carried out by people. It is about taking information from many sources, and making suggestions on where to operate. We won’t turn into a military commanded by robots. But these tools will create a new area of thinking,” he said.
Today, the IDF can create a single battle picture for commanders, but in the next stage it will translate this vast data into suggestions, such as where to focus firepower.
The network will create new links between sensors and shooters, Tapuhi added. “Sensors are getting more advanced,” he said.
Just before the 2014 conflict with Hamas erupted, the IDF had completed the construction of a broadband military network, enabling the transmission of data from the air, sea, ground, and Military Intelligence, and using it to create a single picture. During the summer of hostilities that year, this picture was sent to brigade and division headquarters. “It enabled the headquarters to strike terrorists in new ways,” Tapuhi said.
The officer said it was just the start of the process. “This was the first test of the concept,” he said.
Another aspect of the program involves advances in the radio wave spectrum, though Tapuhi said this aspect remains classified. “There is lots of data flowing the air. We have to analyze the spectrum world,” he added.
The world of cyber defenses is also experiencing rapid developments, Tapuhi said.
It is safe to assume that Israel’s enemies are searching for weak cyber spots to attack it in, he added.
Throughout these developments, the IDF is in the process of creating new computer servers at its Technological Campus, which is being set up in the Negev. The campus is also where all future C4i cadets will be trained.
This same campus will o be the back-up site for the future IDF cloud computing network.
“We will see the first signs of the cloud in 2017. We define it as an operational Internet, much like an i-phone user who can go into an app store and download applications...
with the correct clearance commanders will receive all of their applications through one screen [in the field], which will be linked to the cloud,” he said.
That means a battalion commander could look at his future military mobile device, and see the visual feeds coming in from lookouts, drones, as well as see the location of hostile forces in residential buildings around him.
“It will dramatically change the world of intelligence, Tapuhi said.
“All of the information will be in the palm of the commander’s hand. That is where we are going.”