Israel’s Ministry of Defense Defense Research and Development Directorate (DR&DD) provided today a glimpse into the Carmel technology demonstration program, evaluating future combat vehicle technologies for the late 2020 and beyond.
DR&DD invited three industry groups to provide technology demonstrators for the program – Rafael, Elbit Systems and IAI. The demonstrators were all based on an M-113 used as a platform surrogate for the combat vehicle. The future platform will utilize a new chassis powered by a diesel generator powering a rechargeable battery bank to provide the electricity for propulsion and all systems.
During the first phase of the Carmel Program, a significant challenge was presented to the three major defense industries in Israel: to prove the feasibility of an AFV that is operated by only two combat soldiers, with closed hatches. The two persons employ different sensors onboard and off-board, including radars, thermal imaging sensors, video cameras, acoustic and lasers and drones, all inputs are fused and displayed to the crew for situational assessment and response.
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[wlm_ismember]Each industry was asked to develop its own technological concept, that would transform and upgrade the interior part of the IDF’s combat vehicles to an advanced cockpit (much like a fighter jet’s cockpit). The challenge: proving the feasibility of two soldiers conducting closed hatch operations and integrating technological capabilities that would enhance mission efficiency for the IDF’s maneuver forces. To achieve this goal each group took a different approach, utilizing high-level integration, sensor fusion, vehicle autonomy, and artificial intelligence enabling effective situational awareness and understanding, decision making and weapon employment, enabled by different, advanced cockpit integrations capabilities.
Each team tested its solution over a period of one week, within a series of complex operational scenarios where crews composed of DR&DD teams employed the vehicles through multiple, challenging scenarios, some facing 35 threats on a mission.[/wlm_ismember]
Each group took a different approach to meet the objectives – a light (35 ton) combat vehicle armed with medium caliber auto-cannon and missiles, and operated by a crew of two, with an additional position for a third person operating specialist systems. Designed for manned operation, Carmel is equipped with sensors, artificial intelligence, and advanced automation and system autonomy thus reducing operator workload. This approach enables human operators to take decisions and actions in a timely and optimal manner.[wlm_ismember]
Elbit Systems presented a technological concept integrates two forms of vision systems – large screens for planning and ‘Iron Vision’ augmented Reality helmet displays for the combat phase of the mission. Iron Vision provides a “See-Through Armor” function, enabling the crewmembers to view their surroundings in an intuitive and detailed way. The AFV successfully demonstrated its capacity to function as an independent high fire-power strike cell, as a networked station for multi-spectral sensing and information fusion, as well as a base platform for operating additional unmanned systems.
IAI presented a platform based on the company’s family of autonomous systems and robotic vehicles. IAI’s Carmel platform combines a panoramic display made of several large screens, individual control screens, and a control unit similar to a gaming console Joystick. The vehicle delivered by IAI offered enhanced functions of autonomous mobility, particularly in route planning and in response to the evolving situation. This function enables the crew members to focus on situational awareness and combat, leaving movement control to the machine. High level of autonomy is involved in threat detection, classification, and identification, using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning processes.
Rafael’s solution for the future combat fighting vehicle utilizes a large ‘video wall’ display enabling the two crewmembers to focus on the mission while intuitively sharing tasks among themselves and with virtual assistants. The video wall stacks two layers of 180 degrees displays, creating a virtual transparent ‘window’ covering 360 degrees. Video annotations highlight objects of interest, friendly forces, suspected and confirmed targets, or messages alerting crewmembers to take action.
[/wlm_ismember]The Carmel Program also includes the development of other capabilities not presented in the demo day, such as the platform with hybrid-electric propulsion and energy storage with high capacity to support the electronic systems on board, signature reduction, including active camouflage, multi-task radar providing both self defense (active protection) from anti-tank threats as well as detection and tracking of drones, vehicles and humans, blue force tracking and various types of weapon systems, including direct and indirect fires, self-protection and high-energy lasers. Another aspect to be pursued in a later stage is teamwork – the synergy between several Carmel vehicles, sharing information and tasks using broadband connectivity. ‘Manned-Unmanned Teaming’, will evaluate the advantages of augmenting the small crew with the capabilities of associated robotic team members.
The lessons learned from the recent evaluation will be assessed and presented to the DR&DD for further action. DR&DD is expected to recommend a technology mix for further development and integration in a future platform or select a single provider or a team to act as a prime contractor. Among the technologies already selected for integration in future platforms is the Iron Vision helmet display from Elbit Systems, that will be integrated in the next phase of the Merkava Main Battle Tank – the Merkava Mk4 Barak. Other systems could be included in the future in the Eitan APC and Namer heavy armored infantry combat vehicle.
[wlm_ismember]While Carmel undergoing evaluation and technology demonstrations, the IDF plans to introduce two new armored vehicles to modernize and enhance the capabilities of armored and mechanized infantry. Merkava Mk4 ‘Barak’ (lightning in Hebrew) is the latest version of Merkava, soon to be inducted in service. Merkava Mk4 Barak will implement some of the capabilities developed for the Carmel, including AI and ‘Iron Vision’ augmented vision system, enabling the crew to view the outside world on their helmet display, with information embedded in the world view. AI enables the crew to improve target recognition and tracking under difficult visibility.
Eitan, the new 8×8 armored vehicle designed and built by the MOD Tank Authority will replace the M-113s being withdrawn from active and reserve service. Eitan employs a new remotely operated turret mounting a 30mm auto-cannon that is likely be used in the Carmel, either in the original 30mm or 40mm Supershot version. The turret will also integrate advanced sensors and active protection capability, enhancing the vehicle’s combat effectiveness in the complex battlespace.[/wlm_ismember]