Tamir Eshel

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Asymmetric underground manoeuvrability and operability is shaping the modern battlespace in urban and complex terrain, offering a clear benefit to the irregular side. The fierce fighting between Israel and the Palestinian terror organisations in Gaza is highlighting the growing need for technologies that can assist the regular military operating in the subterranean dimension.

New tools and technologies are needed to enable military forces to better train and operate in subterranean operational environment. Photo: US Army

New tools and technologies are needed to enable military forces to better train and operate in subterranean operational environment. Photo: US Army

Tunnels warfare is not new, in fact it has been part of military history since ancient times, through the 20th century. but has been abandoned by modern military with the introduction of mobile warfare, which rendered the static and slow subterranean warfare useless in face of rapid, dynamic enemy. During the 21st century Subterranean Warfare emerged once again, as insurgents turned to the underground domain pressed by overwhelming technologically-driven Intelligence, Surveillance and airborne reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities mastered by regular military forces, particularly western militaries.

In an effort to extend the military capabilities to operate in the subterranean environment (Sbt OE) the US Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF) has published a call for information for industry, to provide a range of solutions for this challenge. Among the tools the Army is looking for are measures improving underground mobility, using both manned and robotic equipment. Operating robots within the confined space of the tunnel is quite a challenge, as remotely controlled robots must deliver effective orientation beyond line of sight. Wireless communication with the robot is another issue requiring deployment of repeaters to extend its range. Orientation without GPS is also a challenge, which can be solved by mapping the subterranean space, although this process may require time.

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tunnel_snake_payload

The payload developed for the Counter Tunnel Robot System utilizes a spinning 2D lidar sensor that provides 3D coverage, stereo cameras, and inertial sensors. Visual odometry and inertial sensors and registered liar point clouds are also used to enable the robot to autonomously find its way back to the original ingress point. Photo: US Navy

Autonomous operation of unmanned vehicles, either unmanned ground (UGV), air vehicles (UAV) or ground crawlers (insects or snake like robots) can overcome this challenge, when such robots are given the necessary sensory inputs (sonars, laser scanners etc.) to maintain situational awareness and directional control. However, adding those features to existing robots could be quiet challenging, when packed in a small footprint. Also required are new technologies improving underground communications, navigation and situational awareness.

Breeching systems are also required, particularly ‘cold’ breeching devices that would enable soldiers to overcome barriers without using explosives in the confined space of the tunnel. Compact ladders and rappelling equipment may also be required to overcome vertical obstacles.

Cold breeching tools are required to enable soldiers to rapidly overcome obstacles, locked doors and passageways. Photo: US Army

Cold breeching tools are required to enable soldiers to rapidly overcome obstacles, locked doors and passageways. Photo: US Army

After the an attack from Gaza in June 2006, when Palestinians infiltrated into Israel through a ‘strike tunnel’, killed two soldiers and abducted Gilad Shalit, the IDF elevated the threat of strike tunnels including this challenge among its highest priorities. Particularly the detection of tunnels as an urgent operational need. Many technologies were evaluated, and some actually put to the test, at a special test range that has been established by the Israel MOD. Among the systems considered were seismic sensors, designed to detect subterranean work in progress, trenching systems that could open deep trenches in the ground, in an effort to uncover tunnels penetrating into Israel, even flood suspected areas to disable tunnels was considered.

A parallel effort was also conducted by the USA, as part of a joint program sponsored by the US Army and department of Homeland Security (DHS). As a single technological solution has proved marginal at best, a combination of a number of sensors could provide better results in the detection of underground activity. In 2007 Georgia Tech has studied the use of combined electromagnetic and seismic sensors to detect shallow tunnels. In 2009 the US Department of Homeland Defense has tested an unmanned aerial vehicle carrying hyper spectral payload working on a Back in the USA, similar technological efforts are directed at remote sensing.

However, sofar none has delivered conclusive results. Other capabilities considered for the task include hyper spectral surveillance, precision mapping and surveillance, acoustic/seismic surveillance and measuring minute changes in ground surface – all as part of a relentless effort to uncover the subterranean activities deep under the surface.

Following the repeated Palestinian attacks during Operation Protective Edge (July 2014) the I-MOD announced that yet a another technology has been tested and demonstrated promising results.

tools_for_underground_operations

Operation 'Protective Edge' will be remembered as one of the first military operations where a modern army had to face an irregular enemy mostly in the subterranean operational environment. While irregular forces have exploited the underground dimension in the past, in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Palestinians in Gaza relied on their subterranean tunnel network as a battlespace - gaining mobility, communications, force protection and survivability, and denying the enemy from its main advantage - dominance in intelligence and firepower.

An IDF combat engineer inspects a tunnel uncovered in Gaza. Photo: IDF

An IDF combat engineer inspects a tunnel uncovered in Gaza. Photo: IDF

The Gaza strip provided an excellent terrain for the construction of the Palestinian subterranean network, established in the about 10 years, since Israel’s withdrawal from the area. Due to the soft soil and sand covering the majority of the area around Gaza, the Palestinians were able to dig those tunnels relatively quickly.

According to Palestinian sources, tunnels 300-400 meter long were dug within ‘months’, using ‘dozens’ of diggers working 24/7 in several shifts. Overall, tunnelling a source of steady income for many Palestinians in the Gaza strip, which suffers from extremely high rate of unemployment. Those families were digging and maintaining the tunnel infrastructure, charging service fees for all goods transported through these tunnels.

Like makeshift rockets and explosives constructed form ordinary materials and fertilisers provided by Israel, and international aid, the concrete and metal supports for the tunnels were also provided by Israel, in form of building supplies delivered to rebuild and develop the civilian constructions in the Gaza Strip.

The network comprised of three types of underground facilities:

  • Logistical supply tunnels
  • Communications, command and control tunnels
  • Strike tunnels

Hundreds of logistical (smuggling) tunnels dug under the borderline separating the Palestinian Rafah from the Egyptian side of the city provided a source of living for many families in the southern Rafah area. Other tunnels located in the north and center, controlled by the militant governing Hamas, provided caches of supplies, weapons and ammunition.

Part of the Gazan subterranean complex is providing a protected operational space connecting buildings in urban areas, with the tunnels dug under open areas providing save passage for combatants, as well as hidden positions for mortar and rocket launchers.

Over a thousand such tunnels have been destroyed by the Egyptian Army in recent months, as part of the Egyptian effort to cease uncontrolled traffic from Gaza to Egypt. By 27 July Egypt’s army said it has destroyed 13 more tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip, taking to 1,639 the overall number it has laid waste to.

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A tunnel entry in Gaza. The left image shows the cached access. On the  right, the tunnel entry is exposed. Photo: IDF

Tunnel entries on the surface are concealed by large covers, enabling insurgents to use the facility for rapid egress, surprising enemy forces or as firing positions, launching rockets or firing mortars. The left image shows the cached access. On the right, the tunnel entry is exposed. Photo: IDF

The tunnels are often high and wide enough to enable a line of soldiers to move freely and rapidly. Tunnels are dug at a depth of about 20 meters (66 foot) below ground, and use several sharp turns and height changes, eliminating direct lines of fire. Exits are often supported by steps and ladders to facilitate rapid egress. As noted on The Washington Post’s Morning Mix blog, in the fall of 2013 Israeli soldiers found a tunnel that was 2.4 km (1.5 miles) long, 20-30 meter (66-99 foot) ) deep and equipped with electricity and provisions that could last occupants several months. Israeli officials estimated that it required $10 million and 800 tons of concrete to build.

Hidden from aerial surveillance tunnel entries are often placed in basements, in residential homes and other covered structures. Some of the main entry shafts are strengthened with concrete and have ladders and power lines assisting access to the tunnel laying 20-30 meters (66-99 foot)  below surface. Photos: IDF

Hidden from aerial surveillance tunnel entries are often placed in basements, in residential homes and other covered structures. Some of the main entry shafts are strengthened with concrete and have ladders and power lines assisting access to the tunnel laying 20-30 meters below surface. Photos: IDF

Those strike tunnels are also supported by extensive infrastructure that secures those assets, gaining multiple paths of movement, alternative entries and exits, each pathway rigged with booby traps to protect the main path.

According to military sources the Israeli intelligence identified 38 strike tunnels which were briefed to the forces. Through the land phase of operation Protective Edge the IDF discovered 32 such tunnels and over 60 vertical shafts supporting those tunnels. According to IDF sources these were most of the tunnels the Israeli Intelligence has already knew about. Some are uncovered by heavy mechanical equipment and well digging equipment. Others are seized through known or uncovered accesses.

Inspection and mapping of those tunnels require extensive operations, that had to be undertaken in a combat zone, with large forces protecting a perimeter around those sites, enabling the engineers to conduct their complex subterranean operation. After the inspection phase, the tunnels are destroyed with explosives.

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As robots are assuming part of the roles performed by human operators, particularly in dangerous missions, it is obvious they will be used in subterranean environments. However, denied the basic attributes necessary for its operation - navigation, guidance and communications - most military robot are still awaiting some technological solutions when tasked with missions underground

MTGR seen on a tunnel reconnaissance mission.The robot uses on-board illumination to illuminate the scene. It can also use a thermal camera for more covert surveillance. Photo: Roboteam

MTGR seen on a tunnel reconnaissance mission.The robot uses on-board illumination to illuminate the scene. It can also use a thermal camera for more covert surveillance. The robot employs encrypted Mobile Ad Hoc Network (MANET) radio for communications. To enable extended link the robot can deploy radio ‘breadcrumbs’ along its path, to establish ad-hoc network continuity, enabling the robot to transfer real-time video, voice, and data. Photo: Roboteam

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Micro Tactical Ground Robot is lowered by rope into a cave. At a weight of 8.6 kg (19 lb) this ultra-mobile robot can carry 9 kg (20 pounds) of payloads, which include a grip, infrared camera or other systems. Photo: Roboteam

Ground robots can assist human activities underground, sometime even replace manned operations in certain applications. Missions assumed by robot are often safer and, in some applications, faster and more accurate, than those done by humans. As the human, robots also have limitations – particularly in autonomy, situational understanding to their dependence in operator input, which requires reliable communications, either directly or through entities, constantly connecting the subterranean operator to the surface.

Subterranean environment – the robot perspective

Contemporary ground robots are operated in ‘remote control’ mode, requiring good operator skills to move the robot, understand their surrounding and manipulate their payloads. Some robots are already supporting semi-autonomous operation, enabling the unmanned vehicle to follow relatively complex sets of commands with a single instruction.

Semi-autonomous capabilities such as climbing stairs, gripping an object or rolling over often requires extensive control that will require a combatant to focus on the robot operation, rather on his own survival, therefore, rendering the robot irrelevant under combat in complex terrain. Semi-autonomous operation is therefore mandatory to make the robot combat efficient. The application of semi autonomous operation is often utilize advanced yet simple to operate man-machine interfaces and advanced robot operating systems.

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Challenging communications and control are also common in operations in built-up and subterranean environment, denying GPS based position location and communications. The integration Differential GPS, (DGPS), interferometric radio-frequency (DF), acoustic (sonar) processing, inertial measurement and azimuth and distance measurement could compensate for better positioning in GPS denied environment. Some of these sensors could also enable some degree of semi-autonomous operation, and allow for several robots to operate simultaneously under a single controller, enabling faster area coverage, especially in indoors and in subterranean reconnaissance operations.

Some of the measures currently used can also provide solutions for subterranean operational challenges. For examples, tunnel scouting robots that are often lowered into the tunnels through ventilation shafts are using a tether – this tether can also deliver the power and communications link to and from the platform, enabling the robot to deploy on its mission unlimited by on-board power or communications range, delivering imagery and data in real time to the operators above ground.

CaveCrawler

The Cave Crowler fromCMU was developed as a research project designed for underground scientific activities, help exploring archeological sites and caves. Photo: CMU

From cave crawlers to tunnel scouts

In the early 2000s research projects such as the Groundhog and Cave Crowler developed at the Carnegie Mellon University paved the way for robotic cave exploration and underground archeological research. These projects later evolved into the Gemini Scout – a search and rescue robot developed at Sandia laboratories. Gemini Scout to assist in rescue operations in mines and tunnels. However, this large robot lacked the size and agility to be suitable for tactical missions.

In recent years the Pentagon, and more recently, the inter-agency Combating Terrorism Technical Support Organization (CTTSO) operating under the US Department of Defense. DOD funding directed at subterranean operations, mapping, situational awareness, navigation, obstacle avoidance etc. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and British Army have also acquired substantial numbers of MTGRs, for use as miniature, soldier portable UGV. Some of these robots have already entered operational use and are taking part in combat operations.

SAN-DIEGO-TUNNEL-TASK-FORCE

San Diego Tunnel Task Force is using the MTGR robot to scout smuggling tunnels connecting the Mexican city of Tijuana with San Diego. The MTGRs were provided through the inter-agency Combating Terrorism Technical Support Organization (CTTSO) has provided 35 such robots to national and local law enforcement agencies for evaluations and operational use. Photo: Ron Rogers, ICE.

Micro Tactical Ground Robot

One of the robots found to be suitable for subterranean operation is the Micro Tactical Ground Robot (MTGR) developed by Roboteam. In 2013 CTTSO has allocated $15.6 million to evaluate and field these robots through 2015. Some 100 MTGR robots are already operational with combat teams of the Army Special Operations Command, Naval Special Warfare Command, as well interagency tactical units such as the FBI-Hostage Rescue Team, Border Patrol Special Operations Group, where they recently took part in detection of tunnels along the US-Mexican border in Tijuana. CTTSO plans to provide 35 MTGRs to interagency tactical units or domestic operations. The Israeli and British Army have followed CTTSO recently, fielding the MTGR man-portable micro-robot. Among the missions recently assigned to the MTGR are underground tunnel reconnaissance, a mission bringing the MTGR’s small dimensions and unique networking capabilities to bear.

In addition to special forces and other infantry units in the US, Israeli and British military, the California Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) tunnel task force has been using the MTGR on the US-Mexican border have expanded their surveillance capabilities with the introduction of MTGR robots provided by CTTSO. The robots already demonstrated their worth detecting smuggling tunnels linking Tijuana and San Diego.

A Tunnel Task Force operating in San Diego, CA San Diego Tunnel Task Force, is supported by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – Border Patrol; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

pointman_tunnel

Border Patrol agents in Nogales, Az are using the Pointman robot to clear tunnel they detect, to provide a preliminary assessment of the potential threats, potential people with weapons or contraband found in the tunnel. The robot can also help assessing weather the tunnel is structurally sound, before agents risk entering the site. Photo: ARA

Pointman SUGV

Another robot adapted for tunnel surveillance is the Pointman Small UGV (SUGV). According to ARA over 50 Pointman Tactical Robots are already deployed with police, SWAT, government and first responder teams across the United States. This wheeled robot, built by ARA is currently has recently been used in tunnel detection, operating around Nogales, on the Arizona border.

The Counter Tunnel robot configured to move inside a tunnel, using 'tank mode' moving on two tracks in parallel. When negotiating  obstacles the robot can transform to move in  snake style motion. Photo: US Navy.

The Counter Tunnel robot configured to move inside a tunnel, using ‘tank mode’ moving on two tracks in parallel. When negotiating obstacles the robot can transform to move in snake style motion. The robot is equipped with a stereo camera and 2D Lidar payloads. Photo: US Navy.

Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection (R2TD)

The Counter Tunnel System project pursued and sponsored by the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) Joint Ground Robotics Enterprise (JGRE) under the Rapid Reaction Tunnel Detection (R2TD) Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) was launched in 2011 and has reached limited field testing in 2013. A prototype robotic system for counter-tunnel operations, the Counter Runnel robot is designed to conduct exploration, mapping, and characterization of tunnels with high level autonomy, providing a safe and effective solution for three-dimensional (3D) localization, mapping, and characterization of a tunnel environment.

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The Counter Tunnel robot tested under the R2TD JCTD  can deploy into tunnels up to 30 meter deep through boreholes as narrow as 20 cm. Photo: US Navy

The Counter Tunnel robot tested under the R2TD JCTD can deploy into tunnels up to 30 meter deep through boreholes as narrow as 20 cm. Photo: US Navy

Underground warfare is not new. Since ancient and medical times warfighters have often used subterranean passages, natural or man made, to gain access into enemy fortifications and escape siege. In modern times, underground warfare has been utilised primarily in guerrilla, enabling a weaker side to combat militarily superior opponent, taking advantage of tunnels, caves and other underground infrastructures prepared in advance as part of an orderly military strategy.

US soldiers inspect a water well, connected to an underground tunnel system, used to store rainwater in the afghan winter. In the dry season, these systems are often used to store  caches of weapons and improvised explosive device. Photo: US Marine Corps, by Sgt. James Mercure.

US soldiers inspect a water well, connected to an underground tunnel system, used to store rainwater in the afghan winter. In the dry season, these systems are often used to store caches of weapons and improvised explosive device. Photo: US Marine Corps, by Sgt. James Mercure.

Underground warfare is not new. Since ancient and medieval times warfighters have often used subterranean passages, natural or man made, to gain access into enemy fortifications and escape siege. In modern times, underground warfare has been utilised primarily in guerrilla, enabling a weaker side to combat militarily superior opponent, taking advantage of tunnels, caves and other underground infrastructures prepared in advance as part of an orderly military strategy.

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In recent years tunnels and subterranean infrastructures have been exploited by insurgents, particularly by Iraqi movements fighting the coalition forces, and later the Iraqi Army and Police, as well as Afghan rebels – Taliban, operating in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. India has also experienced the risks of cross-border tunnels (CBT), particularly in Kashmir. Islamic movements inspired by Al Qaeda, and Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, are also relying on extensive networks of tunnels to offset the superiority of modern armies. Un Gaza, the Palestinians have built an ‘underworld’ – a tunnel complex providing commercial and military supply lines, security, command, control and communications infrastructures as well as means of attack against Israel. These tunnels are enabling small teams of terrorists to infiltrate into Israel, unbound by the physical obstacles of the border fence, ground-based surveillance and remotely controlled weapons and constant aerial surveillance.

Subterranean networks are also exploited by drug cartels in Mexico for narco-traficking into the USA. A byproduct of this network is also a flood of illegal immigrants and transport of contraband into the USA.

Tunnel networks stretch well beyond the Middle East, however. In southern Afghanistan, Taliban fighters have used them to hide weapons and to disappear after ambushing U.S. and Pakistani forces (as seen in the video above). Along the US southern border with Mexico, tunnels have been used to smuggle narcotics and people into the United States.

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Staff Sgt. Dave Townzen, 716th Explosive Ordinance Disposal, Task Force Paladin, enters an underground tunnel in search of insurgent weapons caches. Photo: US Army Spc. Jason Nolte

Staff Sgt. Dave Townzen, 716th Explosive Ordinance Disposal, Task Force Paladin, enters an underground tunnel in search of insurgent weapons caches. Photo: US Army Spc. Jason Nolte

The Integrator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has recently completed a 24-hour flight, demonstrating the platform's expanded endurance and increased gross take-off weight. Integrator is providing the aerial platform for the US Marine Corps' RQ-21A Blackjack small tactical UAS.

An Insitu Integrater Block 2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) property of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2), is retrieved by a Sky Hook recovery system at Atlantic Field, N.C., April 1, 2014. VMU-2 conducted an early capability flight to train Marines with the new UAV system. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis

An Insitu Integrater Block 2 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) property of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2), is retrieved by a Sky Hook recovery system at Atlantic Field, N.C., April 1, 2014. VMU-2 conducted an early capability flight to train Marines with the new UAV system. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Austin A. Lewis

Insitu announced today its Integrator unmanned aircraft has successfully completed a 24-hour flight, demonstrating the platform’s expanded endurance and increased gross take-off weight with payload on board. The flight was one of several planned milestones demonstrating the platform’s increasing payload capacity and endurance, supporting future missions. The Integrator provides the basis for the US Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack, developed by Insitu under the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps program of record.

With a 40 pound (18 kg) payload capability, the aircraft’s six payload spaces can be customized with cameras, communication capabilities and other payloads to suit different operational needs. Developed as a modular, flexible platform the Integrator has significant growth potential. “We designed Integrator with growth in mind; high fuel capacity, large dedicated payload volumes and an aerodynamically and structurally efficient airframe have all been carefully implemented to allow the platform to change and adjust to our customers’ priorities.” Insitu’s Chief Engineer Peter Kunz explained. “Increasing the Integrator’s gross take-off weight opens up more opportunities for us to integrate heavier payloads while maintaining long endurance for a multi-mission platform” Senior Vice President Insitu Programs Ryan Hartman added.

Payload bays

Payload bays

The Integrator can operate at an altitude of 19,500 ft and maximum horizontal speed of 90+ knots (cruising speed is 55 kt). At the max takeoff weight of 135 lb (61.2 kg) the Integrator can currently carry a maximum payload of 40 lbs (18 kg). The empty (dry) weight is 80 lb (34 kg).

The Integrator’s payload spaces include the nose bay housing a multi-sensor turret plus additional payload capacity of up to 15 pounds. Another payload space is available at the platform’s Center of Gravity (CG), accommodating payloads of up to 35 pounds. The wing and winglets can also accommodate sensors and other systems, each carrying two and three pounds respectively. Each wing also has a hardpoint carrying up to 15 pounds. Each of those six payload spaces is provided with power and Ethernet connections.

An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo by  Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

An RQ-21A Blackjack belonging to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 sits on the flight line of Marine Corps Outlying Field Atlantic, March 21, 2014. The Blackjack is eight feet long with a wing span of 16 feet and can hold payloads up to 25 pounds. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua R. Heins

Following ten days of aerial and naval attacks on terror targets in the Gaza strip, and continuous rocket fire against Israeli towns and villages by Palestinian terror groups from Gaza, Israel is increasing the pressure on Hamas in Gaza launching a ground operation within the Gaza Strip. The forces moved on 22:00 Israel Time (20:00 GMT)

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Heavy combat engineering equipment heading an Israeli column of armored infantry fighting vehicles assembled to move accros the border into Gaza.

The operation came after 10 days of intense fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant Hamas, in which Israel hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel.

The IDF has already called in 40,000 reservist soldiers and has increased its regular forces along the border with Gaza, with three elite infantry brigades, some are mounted on armored infantry fighting vehicles, along with Merkava main battle tanks. The forces are closely supported by artillery and heavy combat engineering units, that provide fire and mobility support for the troops. The Israeli government has approved calling 18,000 additional reservists to sustain the operation, if required.

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This second phase of operation ‘Protective Edge’ is led by the IDF’s Southern Command. It employs close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support. This effort is closely supported by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA) and other intelligence organizations.” the official announcement said.

According to IDF Spokesperson, the objective as defined by the Israeli government is “to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continues indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”

The campaign followed several days of preparations, in which the IDF instructed civilians to move out of certain areas north and north east of Gaza city, where the IDF identified extensive rockets launches over the past 10 days. Other areas of concern are in the eastern and southern border between Gaza and Israel, where Hamas has dug tunnels to circumvent and infiltrate and strike into Israel, creating an underground bypass the border fence and security measures Israel has constructed along the border fence. The IDF has warned Palestinian civilians in Rafah and Khan Yunis in the southern and central areas of the Gaza Strip.

Ground offensive: the first night

Since beginning of the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge July 17, five terror tunnels have been exposed by the IDF and are now under comprehensive investigation. Later today IDF spokesperson announced that the Givati Brigade operating in the Gaza Strip have thus far uncovered 13 tunnels exits that were used to smuggle weaponry and to execute terror attacks. The announcement did not specify the location where those tunnels were found.

Initial indication from the military activities overnight indicate relatively light Palestinian resistance, in line with IDF expectations. According to military reports 14 terrorists were killed in exchanges of fire. The Palestinians reported 17 killed. One Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper, and five additional soldiers were wounded, mostly from mortar fire. An anti-tank missile hit an IDF heavy bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip, causing damage but no injuries were reported. Overall, IDF forces reportedly targeted 103 terror targets, exposed and destroyed about 20 concealed rocket launchers and struck nine tunnels.

Since the beginning of the of the ground phase of the operation, about 50 rockets were fired at Israel, 25 of which hit Israel and another 20 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Analysts have assessed the Israeli operation will be limited, since the Netanyahu government was reluctant to embark on the operation and on the land campaign since the beginning. However, a rolling campaign in Gaza could gather momentum as it unfolds, and could have unexpected results, depending on the Israeli actions and Palestinian response. Through the first ten days of the operation the Palestinians have used much of their ‘strategic effects’, firing rockets over 150 kilometers (doubling the range they have reached in previous campaigns). They also attempted to strike from the sea, and on land, through attack tunnels, both foiled by Israeli dominance in intelligence, persistent surveillance and employment of precision effects.

Hamas also employed its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Two were shot down by Israeli air-defense Patriot surface-to-air missile units. One was shot down on Tuesday, over the Mediterranean Sea near Ashdod and another shot down today, south of Ashkelon. The Palestinians also attempted to hit Israeli vehicles using anti-tank missiles.

Despite the Palestinian efforts to inflict casualties and havoc in Israel, the Israelis were prepared and were not surprised by any of these operations. Iron Dome demonstrated impressive success rates, effectively protecting Israel’s population centers from the rocket attacks, providing the civilians a sense of security despite the firing of more than 1,500 rockets from Gaza. It also bought time for the preparation for careful, measured execution of the aerial campaign, and of the planning and rehearsal of the ground offensive. Even the potentially ‘strategic’ strikes, launched through terror tunnels and underwater, were effectively repelled by the IDF, that proved its high level of prepardness and effective ‘terrain dominance’ capability, even at times of hightened operational tempo.

The underworld beneath Gaza

Hamas has invested immense efforts in digging, equipping and maintaining many tunnels dug under the border with Israel and in the area connecting the Palestinian and Egyptian areas of Rafah, those tunnels have provided the ‘military lifeline’ of the sieged Gaza strip, enabling the militant in the sieged Gaza strip to bring in military support smuggled through the loosly controlled Sinai desert. In recent weeks the Egyptian military has closed or destroyed most, if not all of those tunnels, leaving the militants in Gaza without a dependable military support.

According to Israel’s intelligence, terror tunnels are spread throughout the Gaza Strip, forming an ‘underworld’ beneath the populated areas. The majority of those tunnels are constructed and utilized by Hamas. The tunnel network is highly developed and continuously preserved interconnecting launch sites, rocket maintenance and command and control positions. Offensive tunnels are complex and advanced, crossing the border from Gaza to Israel, with an agenda to enable terrorists to infiltrate into Israel. Such tunnels, with openings within Israeli territory are intended to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israelis, attacks on military and civilian communities as well as infiltration into Israel, as part of covert terror activity.

What’s next?

The Israeli ground campaign could have several goals – at present the limited goal – to ‘clean’ the area along the fence and deal with those tunnels – is endorsed by the official speakers, but that may be only the first step. A deeper move, few kilometers into the Gaza strip, could aim to take over the main rocket launch areas, destroying underground rocket launchers, stockpiles, support facilities and command and control sites. Such activities have already taken place in some areas, a naval commando team operating north of Gaza was spotted by the enemy at such a site earlier this week. Four commandos were wounded in that operation.

Another more comprehensive option, one the Hamas is fearing the most, is a deeper thrust into the city of Gaza, and the other regional centers in the south and center – in an effort to defeat the command structure of Hamas, hiding underground in locations shielded by civil facilities (hospitals etc) that Israel cannot attack from the air. In January 2009 during operation Cast Lead, Israel avoided to enter the city of Gaza, and opted to stop its forces few hundreds of meters from these objectives.

ocha_opt_gaza_access_and_closure_map_december_20121

A UN map of the Gaza Strip. Subscribe to see the detailed map.

BAE Systems and the British MOD have completed second phase of flight testing, which included flight evaluations of the unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) low observable (stealth) capabilities. According to BAE Systems, during this latest set of trials Taranis flew in a fully ‘stealthy’ configuration, making it virtually invisible to radar

Taranis_baes_175152800ghost

In order to achieve the required low-signature characteristics the team have replaced all antennas on the aircraft to signature control variants and the air data boom on the nose of Taranis was removed. Following these modifications Taranis used a specially-designed system which allowed the aircraft to generate a full set of flight data, without the use of an external probe or boom. Photo: BAE Systems

In order to achieve an unprecedented level of stealth, the team changed all antennas on the aircraft to signature control variants and the air data boom on the nose of Taranis was removed. Following these modifications Taranis used a specially-designed system which allowed the aircraft to generate a full set of flight data, without the use of an external probe or boom. Taranis also used a cutting edge communications system to ensure it was able to stay in touch with its mission commander without giving away its position to the enemy.

Another aspect of the Taranis stealth are the engine modifications. According to Conrad Banks, Rolls-Royce Chief Engineer – Research and Technology, Defence, the Adour Mk951 jet engine propelling the Taranis is fully embedded and ‘hidden’ inside the fuselage, with infrared signature suppressed through the specially designed exhaust system.

BAE, (as part of the Eurofighter consortium) and Dassault and the manufacturers of the latest generation of manned fighter jets – Typhoon and Rafale – are currently competing fiercely on export markets. The two groups could turn out to be partners, in the next generation unmanned fighter jet expected to replace the Rafale and Typhoon in 15-20 years

Earlier this month at the Farnborough Airshow the defense ministers of Britain and France have signed the The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) agreement announced in January 2014. The agreement embarks on a two-year co-operative feasibility study for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) at an estimated cost of  150 million Euros ($180 million).

Six industry partners will take part in the program, BAE Systems and Dassault Aviation will focus on the airframes, based on preliminary studies conducted in the past, Rolls-Royce and Snecma (Safran) will share work on the powerplants and Selex ES and Thales acting as multifunction sensor suits, communications and avionics developers. Work is due to start this Fall.

The development provides a roadmap for future UCAS technology maturation in France and the UK, providing the funding and directions for industry groups in the two countries to develop the technologies to address future requirements. with will benefit from previous experience gained in the UK and France, on the Taranis and Neuron UCAV demonstrator programs. Since the nEUROn project also involves Swedish, Swiss and Greece, there is a chance that other countries will join the FCAS program in the future.

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Taranis seen on its first flight test – the antennas and air data boom on the nose of aircraft are clearly visible. These elements were removed for the second phase of flight tests, to enable the aircraft to achieve the designed low-observable capability. Following these modifications Taranis used a specially-designed system which allowed the aircraft to generate a full set of flight data, without the use of an external probe or boom.

Amidst operation ‘Protective Edge’, and under barrages of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel is deploying the 8th Iron Dome battery, a step that will extend the nation’s defense against those rockets.

RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system

RAFAEL Iron Dome anti-rocket system firing during Operation Pillar of defense in 2012.

Seven Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Missiles (C-RAM) systems are currently deployed throughout Israel, and have sofar provided an impressive success rate, intercepting over 120 rockets that would have hit populated areas. According to the Israel Missile Defense Organization (IMDO), the system’s success rate is nearing 90 percent.

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The new battery that was completed ahead of schedule has been integrated from modular systems collected from other programs, including training assets and the first David’s Sling Weapon System, currently undergoing developmental testing. A week later the Air Force inducted the ninth Iron Dome battery, as Rafael has accelerated the delivery of the unit, months ahead of schedule.

In addition to the new system, the Iron Dome prime contractor RAFAEL and the Israel Air Force active defense wing have implemented many changes in the operational Iron Dome systems, considerably extending their operational performance.

These extended capabilities addressed evolving, longer range threats and large salvos, as characterised by variants of the 300mm rockets from Syrian, Iranian and local production, that have entered service with Hamas in Gaza. The David’s Sling and Iron Dome share several common components, such as the radar and some battle management modules, which can be configured to support either system by software changes.

The EL/M-2284 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David's Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. Photo: IMOD

The EL/M-2084 Multi-Mode Radar produced by IAI Elta for the David’s Sling, is now committed to the new Iron Dome unit. The larger radar also provides enhanced coverage. Photo: IMOD

During operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 Hamas tried to challenge the Iron Dome with massive rocket barrages, of 16 and 20 rockets. Back then Iron Dome has met these challenges successfully, but the Israel MOD decided to preempt future shortages by increase the production rate of the Tamir interceptor missiles, doubling the production line capacity of Tamir missiles. In addition, continued US funding is calling RAFAEL to source at least half of the missile’s in the USA, with Raytheon becoming the lead for these US sourcing operations. (More details below)

rockets_map725Through the first four days of the current conflict Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations in Gaza have fired over 490 rockets. This time they shifted to larger numbers of long-range rockets, as well as more massive salvos, some counting up to 50 rockets fired in quick succession. Iron Dome has successfully intercepted massive salvos of 122mm GRAD rockets, as well as salvos of Fajr 3, M75 and R160 rockets, the later are M302 fired at ranges of 160 km.

Iron dome criticized

Meanwhile, new reports in the USA again criticized Iron Dome as “Failing at Crucial Task” to destroy the warheads of incoming rocket targeted by the interceptor. According to the MIT Technology Review , Richard Lloyd, a weapons expert and consultant who is a past Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, says that because these interceptions had almost certainly not detonated the rockets’ warheads, the system is essentially failing.

Ted Postol, MIT physicist and missile-defense expert added his own critics, saying “Instead of smoothly rising to meet their targets, the interceptors were making sharp turns and engaging from the side or behind” Those problems appear to be continuing in the current conflict, Postol added.

While the two experts are widely quoted by the media, their comments about the system’s performance are countless, at least, by the clear cut results demonstrated by Iron Dome. Not only by the high intercept ratio (which can be argued, lacking clear numbers related to which rockets were actually engaged), but also by the low casualties count on the Israeli side, which clearly indicates better exchange ratio than in the Lead Cast and 2nd Lebanon War conflicts, where similar rockets were extensively used against population centers throughout Israel. With over 800 rockets fired, 635 ‘crossed the border’, 149 of the rockets were intercepted in the past five days.

Another aspect of the system’s overwhelming success is that it is too good. “Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.” Bloomberg’s Peter Coy reported from Jerusalem. 

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The first two Lavi advanced trainer M-346 produced for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi have been delivered yesterday to the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in the Negev Desert.

Two M-346 Lavi advanced trainers leave for their flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The first two M-346 Lavi advanced trainers (103 and 102) leave Venegono Superiore, Italy for their flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The first two Lavi advanced trainer M-346 produced for the Israeli Air Force (IAF) by the Italian company Alenia Aermacchi have been delivered yesterday to the Hatzerim Israeli Air Force Base in the Negev Desert. These aircraft will gradually replace the TA-4s currently operated by the IAF. The delivery took place at the southern base located within the range of Hamas rockets, fired daily at the town of Beersheba. On their route from Venegono Superiore, Italy the two jet trainers flew over the Mediterranean sea and passed through the crowded Israeli airspace, risking Palestinian rockets and Israeli ‘Iron Dome’ interceptors fired against the Palestinian rockets.

We appreciating the Italian commitment to deliver the aircraft on time, despite the difficult conditions imposed by ‘Operation Protective Edge’, it shows we have true partners in Italy

The second M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainer takes off from Venegono Superiore on its flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

The second M-346 Lavi advanced jet trainer takes off from Venegono Superiore on its flight to Israel, 9 July 2014. Photo: Alenia Aermacchi

“This is a beginning of a strategic shift, these aircraft will become the instrumental platform training the pilots that will be defending our nation in the future” Hatzerim base commander, Col. Tal Kalman said. “We appreciating the Italian commitment to deliver the aircraft on time, despite the difficult conditions imposed by ‘Operation Protective Edge’, it shows we have true partners in Italy”.

In less than two years, has signed the contract, performed the roll-out of the first aircraft last March and delivered the first two M-346s, on time with the programme. A result which marks the excellent team job achieved in strict collaboration with Alenia Aermacchi’s industrial counterparts, TOR and Honeywell”, the company declared.

Meanwhile Alenia Aermacchi’s site of Venegono (near Milan) continues the production activities: in addition to the two aircraft delivered, other 6 M-346s for the IAF are completing final assembly whereas 5 others are in the process of structural part assembly. All 30 aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2016.

In July 2012, Alenia Aermacchi, a Finmeccanica company, was awarded a contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defence (IMOD) to supply 30 M-346 advanced jet trainer aircraft and to include ground based training systems in collaboration with other Israeli and International companies.

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The conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza escalated today to new levels, with each sides launching over hundred attacks at the other. For the first time, a Hamas naval commando team manage to reach land north of Gaza but eliminated soon after without reaching its target.

The Palestinians launched today more than 160 rockets, mostly at civilian targets, at ranges far beyond the 75km achieved in the 2012 Pillar of Defense – the last cycle of violence between the two sides. The Israeli side launched about 200 attacks at terrorist targets in Gaza as part of the operation code named “Defensive Edge”. The Israel Air Force, Navy vessels and army tanks pounded terrorist operatives and commanders, rocket sites, ammunition stockpiles and attack tunnels throughout the Gaza strip. In addition, according to the IAF sources, at least three targets struck were identified as ‘air defense assets’, (probably Man portable air defense systems – MANPADS).

While Israel have shown signs of restraints in escalating the conflict, at least at the initial phase, In addition to 122mm ‘GRAD’ rockets and the 300mm M75 and Fajr 3 rockets, Hamas has introduced a new rocket designated R160. Israeli inspection of the remains of the rocket determines it was a Syrian made 302mm rocket, capable of maximum range of 160 km, 40 such rockets were found on the KLOS-C cargo vessel seized by the Israel Navy in March 2014. On that attack on the city of Hadera, on Israel’s coastal plain, the rocket flew over 125 km but hit an empty parking lot causing no damage.

Iron dome returns to action

The Israeli Iron Dome Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Mortars (C-RAM) system demonstrated again its unique capability to defeat rocket attacks, discriminately intercepting only those rockets that posed a risk to population centers. In the past 24 hours (July 8th) 117 rockets struck Israel and an additional 29 were intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israel has already deployed seven Iron Dome formations, each comprising radar, battle management and several fire units, comprising multiple stacks containing several Tamir guided interceptors. Sofar Iron Dome has demonstrated an impressive capability to intercept salvos of 16 rockets. In an attempt to saturate the Iron Dome, Hamas has fielded multiple rocket launchers mounting 40 rockets.

Hamas commando raid failed

The Palestinians also tried to strike Israeli targets using strike teams attempting to penetrate into Israel through underground (tunnels) and the sea. This video, showing clips taken from surveillance cameras monitoring the area, show the operation as it was seen from the Israeli side today at 20:30 local time.

The first part shows what looks like a team of Palestinian naval commando emerging from the sea, possibly after conducting a diving ingress from their naval base in the city of Gaza. The team rapidly moved toward the nearby Israeli military base. Israeli surveillance units covering the area quickly grouped counterfire employing precision weapons blocking the enemy movement, pinning the enemy down.

At first they returned fire but after a while realized their desperate situation, engaged by IAF Apache attack helicopters, ground troops arriving at the scene and naval gun boats (the engagement as seen from the gunboat’s sight monitoring the remotely controlled gun sight is shown in the video above). The incident was finished after few minutes leaving the four Palestinians dead and one Israeli soldier wounded.

Earlier today a commander of a Palestinian Naval Commando unit Muhammad Sa’aban was killed when his car was targeted by Israeli missiles as he and two assistants were travelling in Gaza.

Secondary explosions raise smoke pillars erupting from a Palestinian attack tunnel hit by the Israel Air & Space Force air strike. Photo: IDF Spokesman

Secondary explosions raise smoke pillars erupting from a Palestinian attack tunnel hit by the Israel Air & Space Force air strike. Photo: IDF Spokesman

Preemptive attack prevents tunnel strike

Yesterday the Israel Air Force targeted a Hamas tunnel. According to the IDF the strike prevented an ‘imminent terror threat to Israeli citizens’. The tunnel was one of several ‘attack tunnels’ the Hamas has built under the border. These tunnels that extend from Gaza into Israel, would enable covert movement from Gaza into Israel and back, enabling the Hamas to execute surprise attacks against the IDF, or launch terror strikes against villages near the order. The strike triggered explosives the Palestinians were carrying through the tunnel, causing a massive blast that killed seven Hamas operatives. The terrorists likely planned to use the explosives to carry out an attack against Israel. Another attack using a tunnel was reported today, at the southern tip of the Gaza strip. This second tunnel strike was not confirmed.

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