IDF to use AI for better full battlefield intelligence - intel official

First ever Ramon GeoInt360 sees the participation of senior IDF officers alongside guests from around the world, including from the Middle East.

 IDF officials use technology on display at the Ramon GeoInt360 conference. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
IDF officials use technology on display at the Ramon GeoInt360 conference.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Israeli troops heading to war, be it in Gaza or Lebanon, will have a clearer picture of their enemy and battlefield than ever before, an IDF Military Intelligence Directorate senior officer told The Jerusalem Post Monday.

For the past four years, the IDF has been working to better incorporate real-time artificial intelligence and multidimensional warfare, including in its Unit 9900 in the Military Intelligence Directorate, which has been working intensely since 2020 to incorporate civilian technology into the military.

“IDF soldiers today receive intelligence completely differently and also use it differently,” the senior officer said. “De facto, the battlefield looks completely different, but we are still not exactly where we want to be.”

“IDF soldiers today receive intelligence completely differently and also use it differently. De facto. The battlefield looks completely different, but we are still not exactly where we want to be.”

Senior IDF officer

The intelligence that front-line soldiers will receive is “100% better than in 2014 or in 2006, but it’s 100% not as good as it will be in 2026,” he said. “We are still not where we want to be, but we are significantly better.”

 IDF Unit 9900 Commander Brig.-Gen. Erez Askal at the Ramon GeoInt360 conference. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) IDF Unit 9900 Commander Brig.-Gen. Erez Askal at the Ramon GeoInt360 conference. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Ramon GeoInt360 conference: Where all sectors of Israel’s geographical intelligence come together

The officer spoke to the Post on the sidelines of the first-ever Ramon GeoInt360 conference, where all sectors of Israel’s geographical intelligence came together for the first time to share and present their goals for the coming decade.

IDF officers participated in the conference, including OC C4i and Cyber Defense Directorate Maj.-Gen. Eran Niv and OC Unit 9900 Brig.-Gen. Erez Askal, as well officials from the Israel Space Agency, the Innovation Authority and the Defense Ministry.

“There’s been a lot of advancements in terms of technology because we told them really what the soldier on the battlefield needs. There's technology, but you need to give the soldier what he needs in a way he understands like a computer game, and doesn’t confuse them with too much data. But the soldier gets the intelligence in 3D, gets the intelligence a lot faster, and gets it in a way that he can use it.”

Erez Askal

“There’s been a lot of advancements in terms of technology because we told them really what the soldier on the battlefield needs,” the senior officer said. “There’s technology, but you need to give the soldier what he needs in a way he understands, like a computer game, and don’t confuse them with too much data. But the soldier gets the intelligence in 3D, gets the intelligence a lot faster and gets it in a way that he can use it.”

That intelligence, including geographical data from satellites and aircraft, mapping and interpreting the visual intelligence for troops on the battlefield and decision-makers, is gathered and deciphered by Unit 9900.

Unit 9900, whose operations serve a critical role for the military by shaping its intelligence map, are usually kept confidential. As is its commander, Brig.-Gen. Erez Askal spoke publicly for the first time to guests at the Ramon GeoInt360 conference.

“To take data and process it to make a relevant story is GEOINT,” he said at the conference. “And if I need to frame it to a question: Where exactly is each person located in the area of interest at any time.”

Askal’s unit is responsible for the satellites operated by the IDF, which provide images with a resolution of several cm. and better that allow troops to see the small details to differentiate between civilians and enemy movement or infrastructure.

“I want everything, everywhere and at all times,” Askal said, adding that the constant collection of intelligence allows him to give context to decision-makers and commanders on the ground in a simple yet detailed manner: “That this person lives here, that this car is always parked here, that this is a bank and this is a command post for Hamas.”

But a resolution of several cm. is not enough for a military that prides itself on precision, he said.

“We need to crack the pixel,” Askal said. “We’ve cracked the text with Siri and Alexa, but we aren’t there yet with pixels. I want our space capabilities, which are 500 km. away from here, to give the same results as drones that are 500 meters from a target.”

According to the senior officer, working alongside civilian companies, even if “it seems out of this world and impossible,” has allowed the military to advance in ways that were not possible before.

Companies from abroad have no issue with the Israeli military using their technology, even if it is used during wartime, he said.

“I never met, at least the American and European companies, an issue like that,” he added. “I think that they understand that my world of precision geography will lead to a lot fewer civilian casualties on the other side. Because if I hit a window and not a whole building, it makes them feel better in humanitarian ways. Many of them are very comfortable with how the IDF uses their capabilities.”

Dozens of civilian companies, including ImageSat International, Maxar, Elbit, Rafael and IAI, involved in space and satellites also attended the conference. There were also attendees and military officials from more than a dozen countries in North and South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Another IDF Military Intelligence senior officer told the Post the military challenges civilian companies to come up with answers to the questions that the military needs.

“We buy services from civilian companies,” he said. “There are companies that specialize in AI, videos from space, high-resolution pixels, etc.”

While the military understood the potential in the civilian market a decade ago, only in the last three years has it fully understood that working together will bring the military closer to its needs, he added.

“We really believe in the duality of the civilian world and the military,” he said. “There are a lot of units that are really incredible at what they do, but they need to come up with more. But we, a lot of the time, rely on the civilian world to advance our needs and vice versa. And the point of the conference is to make an ecosystem that will live our needs, check what there is in the civilian markets and allow us to ride that wave.”

The military has been able to adapt civilian technology to the needs of the IDF and troops on the battlefield, the officer said.

“In our world, we want the intelligence to flow to the military’s Google maps and alert troops to the sniper who is waiting 300 meters away, or of the anti-tank guided-missile cell waiting in ambush 500 meters away, pay attention and take a different route,” he said. “We call it Waze of War, WOW.”