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Israe’s Mafat to Evaluate Bird Aerosystems’ HybridEye – a New Active Protection for Ground Forces

Bird Aerosystems' HybridEye vehicle protection sensor unveiled at Eurosatory 2022.
The four multi-sensory units called ‘HybridEye’ provide hemispheric coverage, the radar range is +5 km and the other sensors include Near Infrared (NIR) and Short Infrared (SWIR) and laser warning device. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update.

Israel’s Defense Ministry’s Directorate of Research and Development (MAFAT – DDR&D) has tasked BIRD Aerosystems to demonstrate a prototype of an active defense system that will protect ground troops and high-value assets against airborne threats (including anti-tank guided missiles – ATGM). The system called ‘HybridEye’ was unveiled at the Eurosatory 2022 exhibition. Unlike existing vehicle perimeter cameras, HybridEye covers a full-hemispheric ‘bubble’ around the vehicle, detecting threats coming from all directions and elevations. The system provides hemispheric detection of threats and provides target data for passive or active countermeasures on board.

Recent conflicts underline the vulnerability of ground combat vehicles, troops, and facilities to low-flying aerial attacks by missiles, drones, and loitering weapons. Existing active defense systems, including air and active protection systems, were designed to engage fast aircraft or missiles and projectiles that use a direct attack. They lack the capability to deal with relatively slow, low-flying targets or those using lofted trajectories to attack their targets from above.

The HybridEye uses a fully digital, software-defined miniature phased array C-Band radar employing multi-beam technology to enable instantaneous early warning of multiple threats from long and very short range. This radar is designed to achieve the required angular resolution at close ranges, in both azimuth and elevation, as Active Protection Systems (APS) requires. The technology was derived from the confirmation and tracking radar sensor developed by BIRD’s for its operationally-proven SPREOS airborne directed infrared countermeasure system (DIRCM). The new radar will perform threat detection and verification and provide target acquisition and guidance data to guide countermeasures against the threats it detects. Each compact system and its electronics are integrated into a single lightweight Line Replaceable Unit (LRU) that eliminates the need for foresight, and enables a simple integration on different platforms, used for perimeter protection and APS.

The project is currently at an advanced stage of development and is expected to demonstrate a complete active defense capability this year.

BIRD Aerosystems also displayed at Eurosatory 2022 a small maritime surveillance radar using the same miniature radar technology developed for SPREOS. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

Plasan Unveils the Light and Mighty WILDER at Eurosatory 2022

Plasan is expanding its range of combat vehicles adding new platforms every year. This year at Eurosatory 2022 the company is introducing a new version of a light armored vehicles called Wilder. Representing a new automotive concept, Wilder represents a shift from the traditional armored vehicle design based on commercial chassis. The new vehicle is designed for special missions, providing excellent offroad mobility, good armor protection for the crew compartment and up to 800 kg of payloads. While the Wilder and AteMM were developed separately, the two platforms offer unique advantages when coupled together.

According to the vehicle designer Nir Kahn, Wilder was conceived as an ultralight armored vehicle moving four soldiers. Unlike the Stinger that was based on a modified hmmwv chassis, Wilder repreents a clean shheet design. “We are using 4×4 all-wheel drive, with a center, front, and rear differential locks, enabling excellent stability on the road, with extreme maneuverability off-road. To improve maneuverability in confined space, Wilder can be fitted with front and rear steering to perform in narrow urban terrain. As an off-road armor-protected vehicle Wilder demonstrates impressive performance in climbing a 400mm vertical step, 80% vertical slope, 54% side slope, 600mm trench crossing, and fording 600mm of water.

The vehicle has a structural integral ‘bolt-on’ protection capsule with advanced composite armor and large transparent plates meeting STANAG 4569 Level II. The armor is provided as a ‘kitted hull’ ensemble bolted onto the monocoque capsule, thus enabling field replacement, and upgrading of the protection system. The spacious cabin is configured with the driver seated in the center, having unobstructed forward and side views, with three troop seats on the side and center rear, enabling the three soldiers an adequate coverage of all angles with an overhead view provided by the instrumented sensors and RCWS. This configuration is also used in the new Scarabee from Arcuus, but Plasan’s Wilder provides it at less than half the weight of Scarabee.

The Wilder and ATeMM were developed in parralel and, thus, offer many advantages using the two platforms together. In fact, the ATeMM converts the Wilder into a hybrid electric stealth vehicle. Photo: Plasan

The structure has sub front and rear frame systems, ensuring the vehicle stability and safety during four-wheel-drive driving at high speed on and off-road, in mud and snow. The vehicle uses the REGO REX independent suspension that provides extra ground clearance and a smoother ride on all types of terrain. The system is coupled with specialized axles and differential that doubles the wheel travel, allowing the vehicle’s high off-road performance. The Wilder uses a Cummins R2.8 Turbo Diesel with 161 HP output. With a curb weight of 3.7 tons and a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of 4.5 tons, this engine delivers a power-to-weight ratio of 36 HP/Ton, an unprecedented ratio for armored vehicles. The vehicle can carry 800 kg of useful payload on the two subframes supporting a forward mount and 1.7 m2 flatbed at the rear. A roof-mounted rigid mount is designed to carry light weapon stations and optronic sensors. “Before Wilder, these specifications could be addressed by armored vehicles weighing seven tons,” Kahn added.

At Eurosatory, Wilder is shown with an autonomous UAV launch and retrieval system from Easy Aerial, operating the Wolverine and Xtender mini drones from Xtend.

Another optional addition is the AteMM electrically powered trailer. AteMM is not a conventional trailer. As an electrically powered wheeled system, it transforms the Wilder becomes a much more powerful 6×6 hybrid-electric platform, increasing the useful payload-carrying to two tons. Mounting weapon systems on the AteMM enables weapons systems integrators to offer numerous applications without any changes to the Wilder.

Since Plasan developed the two vehicles simultaneously, the Wilder and AteMM share some physical, automotive, and electronic commonalities enabling optimal operation of the two systems. They share the same height and suspension systems, and the AteMM controls are embedded in Wilder’s operating console allowing complete control of the AteMM without any preparations.

The Wilder light strike vehicle was unveiled at Eurosatory 2022. Photo: Plasan

 

The Wilder uses a protected capsule using lightweight armor meeting a threat level defined by STANAG 4569 Level II. Photo; TAMIR ESHEL, defense-Update
The vehicle has two access doors providing easy access to the driver (in the front0 AND CREW MEMBERS (IN THE REAR). Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update
The vehicle design has streamlined curved surfaces that are best suitable for camouflage setting. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update.

Israel MOD to Test its new Robotic Combat Vehicle by 2023

The Israel Ministry of Defense will begin testing a robotic unmanned vehicle (M-RCV Medium Robotic Combat Vehicle), developed by the Ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), the Tank and APC Directorate, and the Israeli security industries.

The robotic combat vehicle will be unveiled today at Elbit Systems’ pavilion at the Eurosatory Defense and Security Exhibition. The vehicle includes a new robotic platform type BLR-2 made by BL, a 30 mm autonomous turret developed by the Tank and APC Directorate for the “Eitan” APC, Elbit’s “Iron Fist” Active Protection System, fire control and mission management systems, and robotic autonomous kit, in addition to situation awareness systems. The vehicle also features a capsuled drone for forward reconnaissance and advanced guard missions and a passive sensing kit developed by Elbit Systems and Foresight.

The technological demonstrator, led by the Ministry of Defense’s DDR&D and the Tank and APC Directorate, integrates a number of cutting-edge technologies including advanced maneuvering capabilities, the ability to carry heavy and varied mission loads, and a built-in system for transporting and receiving UAVs.

The M-RCV on display at the Eurosatory 2022 exhibition. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense Update

The vehicle will also incorporate sights, an IAI missile launcher, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ “Spike” missiles. The M-RCV’s capabilities include a highly autonomous solution for advanced guard and controlled lethality in all-terrain conditions. It is operational during the day and night in all-weather scenarios, while emphasizing operational effectiveness, simplicity, minimum operator intervention, and integration into heterogeneous unmanned arrays.

The system was developed as part of the autonomous battlefield concept led in the DDR&D in collaboration with the Tank and APC Directorate while implementing an open architecture for integrating future capabilities and integrating the robot alongside other tools and capabilities. The system is a joint product of many years of investment by the DDR&D and the Tank and APC Directorate and is expected to start field tests during 2023 in representative scenarios.

THe M-RCV will enter field testing next year. The chassis is based on the BLR-2 and the turret is based on the unmanned turret developed for the Eitan combat vehicle. Photo: IMDO Spokesman.

ATeMM – It Isn’t Your Grandfather’s Trailer

Agility, resilience, and self-sufficiency are basic for military forces operating in the field and engaged in warfighting far from their permanent bases. But operating in these conditions poses significant challenges with ever-growing energy consumption, increasing weight, and dependence on complex systems that require experienced operators and logistical tail for supply and support.

A new platform developed by Plasan may provide a solution for some of those needs. At Eurosatory 2022 Plasan showcases the All-Terrain Electric Mission Module (ATeMM), which provides an array of services to enhance the autonomy of tactical units, particularly in load carrying, electrical supply, and robotics operations. In fact, ATeMM is positioned to provide a mobility and autonomy ‘multitool’ that comes in handy in numerous use cases.

Although it looks like a trailer, ATeMM represents a new category in mobility – different from anything we are familiar with today. To understand its potential, let’s look inside. The system combines a load-carrying flatbed, an automotive system, and an electrical energy storage pack. The automotive system uses a single axle, two wheels with independent suspensions, brakes, a differential, and electro-hydraulic steering. The axle is coupled to a 190 HP electric motor/generator. The system can move the wheels or generate electricity in motion, to charge the battery that stores 35kWh of electrical energy. All systems are operated automatically and controlled through an operating system on board.

Plasan unveiled the ATeMM ‘multitool’ trailer at Eurosatory 2022. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

Unlike other trailers, when ATeMM is connected to a standard 2×4 or 4×4 vehicle, it turns that vehicle into a hybrid-electric 6×6. When two ATeMMs are coupled together, they turn that vehicle into an 8×8. Two, three, or four ATeMMs can also operate autonomously as Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV). This is only part of the versatility the ATeMM is capable of.

Power Max – Converting a 4×4 to 6×6

Users can select three operating modes. In the economy mode, ATeMM conserves energy through regenerative motion, with electricity generated and stored when the vehicle decelerates, as in other hybrid electric vehicles, when the driver press the accelerator pedal, ATeMM adds electrical power to support the vehicle. In charge mode, ATeMM is charged by the vehicle motion. While fuel consumption grows, the efficiency of generated electrical power is much higher than on-board generators.

With its Power Max mode, ATeMM can power a host vehicle turning it into a hybrid-electric platform capable of prolonged silent watch, stealth movement and extensive offboard energy export. Photo: Plasan

The third Power Max mode delivers maximum power to boost the momentum of the host vehicle, as the trailer pushes the vehicle. This mode enables a standard 4×4 to achieve much improved offroad mobility and obstacle crossing. This capability also enables vehicles to achieve stealth by eliminating engine noise and maintaining a silent watch for many hours without draining the vehicle’s battery.

The patented twist-lock three-point fast connector system enables the trailer to become an integral part of the vehicle, allowing the driver full maneuverability in forward or reverse tight turns, and high-speed steering. The 1,950 mm wide trailer is air-transportable in helicopters and tactical transport aircraft, its height can be adjusted to adapt to different vehicles. Plasan also considers a smaller 1,650 mm wide version to match All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) that will be air-transportable in the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

The patented twisted coupling enables the ATeMM to link and synchronize its movement with the host vehicle. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

An abundance of Energy

The military needs large amounts of energy to sustain forces in the field. Communications, displays, computers, electro-optics, electronic warfare, missile launchers, drones, and other electronic devices require a constant flow of electricity in the form of fuel, generator sets, or batteries, to be pushed to deployed units. To keep their momentum, they need lots of energy in a form that is readily usable for battery charging or powering other systems.

ATeMM is equipped with multiple options to generate and provides electrical energy. When in motion, it regenerates up to 26 kW of electricity. ATeMM regenerates up to 60 percent of the energy consumed by the vehicle during traveling, energies that were mostly dissipated as heat and other forms of energy loses. When towed behind a host vehicle it generates 15 kW when braking and through coast regeneration). With this regenerative braking and coast regeneration, the ATeMM arrives at its destination fully charged, despite powering devices while in transport. It also has flexible output options supporting 24VDC, 110/220 AC, etc. To store the energy on board ATeMM uses lithium LiFePo T6 batteries offering standard efficiency at a high level of safety, for maximum storage capacity a new lithium-ion system is used, where each segment is immersed in liquid to prevent battery runoff in case of battery damage. Utilizing a smart energy management system managing the onboard battery bank, and regenerative energy produced when the vehicle is in motion, ATeMM provides the user with an efficient Off-Board power source. For example, this energy supply exceeds the needs of a forward command post that is often powered by tactical generator sets. To ensure continuity, two generators are constantly running, therefore doubling the fuel consumption. Using a single ATeMM, the vehicle engine can be used for backup power.

ATeMM-T – the Modular UGV

Another aspect of ATeMM versatility is coupling two units into unmanned vehicles (ATeMM-T). Unlike other UGVs that require charging, transportation, disembarking, and set up by robotics specialists, at the point of deployment, ATeMMs are simply towed by the vehicles and deployed by the troops to begin their mission. Up to four ATeMMs can be connected to form an 8×8 robot that can carry weapon stations, missile launchers, sensors on a telescopic mast, Counter-AUS systems, and more, with a fully electric drive providing power equivalent to 800 HP. When not used as a robotic platform each unit can be decoupled and serve as a power supply, delivering up to 100 kW/h to support other systems.

As a tandem, ATeMM-T can be detached from the host vehicle and operate via remote control, enabling unmanned travel with low signature (heat, noise). ATeMM-T can carry twice the payload of the ATeMM (2.3 tons), storing an increased energy reserve of up to 70 kWh. Another advantage of the system is its ability to deploy with its payload as an autonomous unit, thus avoiding complex and expensive modifications to the host vehicle.

ATeMM is as far from your grandfather’s trailer as a smartphone differs from the 1950s telephone. It provides many services for mobility, energy supply, or system integration on vehicles, but its most important contribution is adding flexibility, agility, and resilience to military forces in the field, where they can improvise and use it on their missions as a useful multitool.

Aeronautics Adds VTOL Capability to Orbiter-4

Orbiter 4 has received a VTOL conversion kit enabling users to opt deploying the drone from the conventional rail launcher or vertically, by four electric motors. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

The Israeli UAV maker Aeronautics is introducing its Orbiter 4 Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (STUAS) modified into a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) platform. The VTOL system comprises a kit that can be added to any Orbiter 4, enabling users to operate the drones without ground support (pneumatic launcher, parachute, and airbags). The VTOL kit includes four electrically driven rotors mounted on booms attached under the wings, which also have batteries to drive those rotors. The new attachment enables users to launch and retrieve the Orbiter 4 with a full payload from any flat surface. The kit can be used with any Orbiter 4, including operational aircraft that would need minor adjustments to the wing.

The VTOL kit offers users maximum flexibility for all-terrain mission operation, as it allows users to use the launcher and parachute + airbag to maximize mission endurance of +24 hours or opt to use the VTOL kit to deploy the drone from confined spaces, alas with a shorter mission endurance (over 10 hours).

“One of the most important needs in the modern battlefield is the ability to operate systems flexibly, depending on changing conditions,” says Matan Perry, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Sales at Aeronautics. “In response to this need, we have developed the Orbiter 4 VTOL kit. Our goal was to keep the superior advantages of the Orbiter 4 as the most advanced UAS in its segment while adding extra flexibility and more autonomy to field personnel.”

Aeronautics’ VTOL kit was designed to enable users deploy the Orbiter 4 STUAS on long missions, using the rail launcher, or launch the drone vertically using the electrically propelled quadrotor installed under each wing. Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

Unlike the larger tactical UAS that depend on runways and a substantial logistical footprint, the Orbiter 4 STUAS is designed to deploy from forward, austere locations without using runways for takeoff and landing. These drones are designed to operate missions spanning day and night (24 hours), using multiple payloads that include electro-optical, radar, and electronic surveillance. Dominating the battlespace with UAS is part of the new ThunderStorm concept developed by RAFAEL and Aeronautics. Not much is publicly known about this pioneering concept.

According to RAFAEL, it comprises a network of aerial and ground-based system-of-systems with state-of-the-art Autonomous Mission Management capabilities that ensure battlefield superiority. According to some sources, new and advanced sensors providing persistent surveillance are central to the system. Rafael has recently demonstrated the MICROLITE, an electro-optical scanning payload optimized to fit the Orbiter 4 specifications.

The system provides persistent surveillance of a wide area, day and night, with high-resolution imagery and frequent revisiting, thus enabling effective coverage of large areas, detection, and tracking of multiple targets, including small objects. Recent conflicts have demonstrated the importance of the ability of armies to sustain operations of UAS over the battlespace, even without securing air superiority. Part of the solution is the ability to operate STUAS at low altitude, when those platforms can support advanced payloads that assume the missions of much larger, expensive, and scarce tactical and MALE UAS, operating at medium – to – high altitude.

Aeronautics’ VTOL developments haven’t stopped at the Orbiter. At Eurosatory 2022, the company plans to unveil the Trojan, an Unmanned Hovering Platform (UHP) that positions Aeronautics in a new category of fully electric drones that can take off, land and hover autonomously, at ranges up to 150 km. With this capability, Trojan can perch and stare at observation points, with motors shut down. These capabilities extend its mission endurance beyond the platform’s flight endurance. Trojan offers the same payload capacity as the Orbiter 4 but with unique hovering takeoff and landing capabilities that make it uniquely suitable for persistent surveillance. We shall cover this new platform in an upcoming review later this week.

Another VTOL drone unveiled by Aeronautics at Eurosatory is the Trojan Autonomous Hovering Platform (UHP). Photo: Tamir Eshel, Defense-Update

IDF Special Forces to Get Hundreds of Z-MAG Commando Vehicles

The 'Negeva' Z-MAG displayed outside IAI's new land division production center in Be'er Sheba. Note the Zibar and three armored variants, lined up at the background. Photo: IMOD

The Directorate of Production and Procurement (DOPP) in the Israel Ministry of Defense will purchase hundreds of combat vehicles from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the use of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Special Forces units.

The Z-MAG line of products was developed by the offroad vehicle designer and manufacturer Ido Cohen. In 2020 IAI’s Elta Systems acquired the manufacturing rights to further adapt the platform to military applications, fulfilling the ground forces’ operational needs for defense, assault, and intelligence gathering.

According to Avi Dadon, Deputy Director General and Head of the DOPP in the Ministry of Defense, “The commando combat vehicle project being launched today is the best possible reflection of the Ministry of Defense’s work. This agreement will enhance the export potential for these unique tools and technologies.”

The ‘Negeva’ Z-MAG is displayed outside IAI’s new land division production center in Beer Sheba. Note the Zibar and three armored variants, lined up in the background. Photo: IMOD

IAI Elta will produce the vehicles at its new ground forces facility in Beer Sheba. This facility is currently under construction, at an investment of tens of millions of NIS in innovative technological and R&D infrastructure. ELTA Beer Sheba will perform the vehicle development and upgrade to provide an integrated, systemic response that includes mobility, defense, and assault for the forces in the field. The vehicles will be manufactured at the IAI’s Land Division production line in Beer Sheba, which, with the encouragement and the investment of tens of millions of NIS by the Ministry of Defense. The Armored Group (TAG), an international vehicle manufacturer based in the USA, is also part of the program, TAG, providing some of the components.

The new commando vehicles have exceptional all-terrain capabilities, such as carrying payloads of 1.5 – 2.5 tons (fully equipped soldiers and equipment, depending on the type of vehicle). The vehicles will be adapted to various missions, including carrying equipment, delivering supplies, and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC). The vehicle design is based on commercial components, ensuring the reliability and availability of spare parts at an affordable cost. The Z family includes the Zibar, Z-mag – a light version, an ultra-light platform designated ZD, and a heavier one offering armored off-road capabilities. The vehicles are designed for air mobility in helicopters and transport planes.

Israel Becomes a Spy-Sat Superpower

The Israeli Ministery of Defense (IMOD) OFEK program (Horizon in Hebrew, often referred to as OFEQ) will be awarded the prestigious ‘Israel’s Defense Prize for 2022′ for the group’s achievements that jointly developed, produced, and deployed Israel’s most advanced observation satellite – OFEK-16. The award will be given in a ceremony to be held on 14 June at the residence of the President of Israel, Mr. Itzhak Herzog. The program is led by the Space directorate at the Directorate of Defense Research & Development (DDR&D) of the Israeli Defense Ministry (IMOD), with IAI as the prime contractor and Elbit Systems as the payload provider.

Israel’s most advanced electro-optical observation satellite, OFEK-16, was launched into space on 6 July 2020, equipped with a new, high-performance space camera developed and manufactured by Elbit Systems. In August 2020, the IMOD released the first high-resolution images from the satellite, showing the Tadmor world heritage site in Syria. On this occasion, IMOD also unveiled the national infrastructure for the production of space cameras, a joint project of the IMOD and Elbit Systems. The national infrastructure includes laboratories for the production of advanced space-qualified optical instruments and a vacuum chamber that simulates the conditions in space and is used to test the satellite camera before it is launched for its mission in space.

The OFEK-16 satellite comprises Elbit Systems’ JUPITER camera, an earth observation camera integrated with the IAI’s OPTSAT-3000 satellite. The camera provides advanced military surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities with very detailed high-value target investigation, such as spotting small and discrete vehicles, objects, and structures, and Battle Damage Assessment (BDA)with high definition. These capabilities enable users to better gain situational awareness and assessment of enemy intentions warnings (I&W) at higher accuracy. The camera provides panchromatic (PAN) imaging capabilities with a very high resolution, with an option to support multispectral (MS) imaging, sharing the same optical assembly. The JUPITER camera is capable of simultaneous operation in PAN, MS, and PAN-sharpened images.

OFEK-16 is the third generation of OFEK satellites, the first operational satellite in the series was OFEK-3, launched in 1995. OFEK-5, based on the OPSAT-2000 platform became operational in 2002, followed by OFEK-7 launched in 2007. OFEK-9, the first of the current OPSAT-3000 series, was launched in 2010; it was followed by OFEK-11 launched in 2016. To maintain complete independence in the capability to produce, launch and operate these satellites, Israel developed an impressive infrastructure of space-qualified manufacturing of satellite busses, payloads, propulsion, and communications enabling the country uninterrupted access to space surveillance. All OFEK satellites are designed for a medium weight class (350~400 kg) suitable for a lift to their Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by IAI’s SHAVIT-2 satellite launchers. That’s what made the Jupiter camera used on the OPSAT-3000 outstanding in performance/weight ratio.

The satellite operates at an orbit of 600 km high; according to published technical data, the camera covers the spectral range between 0.45 to 0.9 µm (visible/NIR). It has an aperture of 0.7 meters; the camera covers a swath of 15 km with a 30 Megapixel image and 50 cm resolution.

The Space Administration in the Israel Ministry of Defense has led the development and production of the satellite and its launcher. IAI is the prime contractor, having assigned the program to its Systems, Missiles, and Space Group, together with the MLM division, which is responsible for developing the launcher. The launch engines were developed by Rafael Advanced Systems and Tomer, a government-owned defense company. Elbit Systems developed the satellite’s JUPITER electro-optical payload. Additional companies have participated in this program, including Rokar and Cielo. Various IDF branches, primarily the Intelligence Corps and Air Force, have also been deeply involved in satellite development.

The first image released by Israel’s MOD was this view of the world heritage site at Palmyra, indicating the quality and resolution the new satellite is capable of delivering. Image: IMOD

OPSAT-3000 Operators

IAI offers the OPSAT-3000 satellites with a comprehensive ground control segment enabling customers full sovereignty of their satellites. This type of operation has been adopted by Israel and Italy. The satellite is also offered in various service-based schemes, through the Imagesat International company.

IDF Unit 9900

The satellite operator is IDF UNIT 9900, responsible for the Visual Collection and Interpretation Agency in Military Intelligence’s Unit 9900. The unit’s satellites, which have gathered mountains of Geographic Intelligence (GEOINT) over the years, are now able to automatically detect changes in terrain in real-time indicating events of military interest.

Telespazio

Apart from its operation with the IDF, the OPSAT 3000 Italy also operates the satellite operated by Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo (67%) and Thales (33%). Arianespace launched the Italian satellite on 1 August 2017 from the European space center in Kourou, French Guiana, with a VEGA carrier, together with Venμs – an Israeli satellite built by IAI and Elbit systems for the French Space Agency. The Italians operate the satellite as a gap-filler following the much heavier OpSIS satellite program, which was canceled in 2014.

Imagesat International

Another operator of the OPSAT300 platform is Imagesat International, operating the EROS NG constellation that, by 2026, will comprise six Ultra High performance, military-grade earth observation satellites. The first step in this plan is the reuse of two operational satellites – designated by Imagesat as EROS C1 and C1. These satellites are believed to be two Israeli-operated satellites, providing imaging over areas of interest for the primary Israeli operator. By the second half of 2022, Imagesat expects to deploy its satellite, the first of two EROS C3 satellites. The second is scheduled to enter service in 2026.

EROS-C3 is also based on the OPSAT-3000 platform, but it will deploy with multispectral sensing capability. This satellite will maintain 38 cm resolution in the PAN and add the MS capability with 76 cm resolution, covering a swath of ~12.5 km. All EROS-C satellites are believed to be of the OPSAT 3000 class. By 2026 Imagesat expects to add another EROS-C satellite to its constellation. EROS-C3 will be launched from the USA on a Falcon-9 launcher.


This is Part I of the review of Israel’s reconnaissance satellite capabilities. The next part will cover the new initiatives of development mini, micro, and nano satellites and the new capabilities becoming available with the wave of ‘New Space’ providers.

Elbit Systems’ Jupiter Very High Resolution (VVHR) camera is the primary payload of the Opsat-3000 satellite. Photo: Elbit Systems

Intelligent Firepower

PITBULL RCWS
PITBULL RCWS is now equipped wit embedded Smart-AI features. Photo: General Robotics

Modern armies have got accustomed to Remote Control Weapons Stations (RCWS) for their ability to enhance the situational awareness and firepower of mounted teams operating on armored fighting vehicles with closed hatches. However, when used on light platforms, such as commando and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), conventional RCWS fall short, as they are too heavy, power-consuming, and lack intuitive operation, thus becoming a liability rather than an advantage. That’s where General Robotics’ Smart-AI PITBULL comes in place – a lightweight RCWS leveraging AI and a high level of autonomy to enable intuitive, remote operation on manned and unmanned platforms.

PITBULL is designed to mount 5.56, 7.62 mm, or 12.7 mm machine guns or 40 mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL). The system’s autonomy enhances the system’s operation on many levels – situational awareness, targeting, and engagement of moving targets and firing on the move. Using the Smart-AI technology, PITBULL continuously and autonomously detects, tracks, and calculates the predicted position of threats and friendly forces using its Target Prediction Algorithm (TPA).

“These advanced functions complement the human operator, enabling the human to be always in control and decide when to press the trigger,” Shahar Gal, General Robotics’ CEO, explained. Processing the command in real-time, the system determines the right time to release the shot, in the condition to score a perfect shot. “This function is optional, and can be activated or disabled, as some users want to maintain full control of the weapon at all times,” Gal said.

PITBULL’s self-awareness functions optimize it for robotic systems applications, implemented on the IAI’s Jaguar Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), operated by the Israel Defense Forces on the ‘smart and lethal border.’ The PITBULL RCWS can also be configured for counter-drone system (C-UAS) missions, equipped with soft and hard-kill measures.

The lightweight RCWS draws only 80 Watts of power, enabling the carrying vehicle to stay on silent watch for many hours. Photo: General Robotics
PITBULL Remote Control Unit (RCU)
PITBULL Remote Control Unit (RCU) is designed for intuitive remote operation of the RCWS. Photo: General Robotics

Smart-AI Functions

PITBULL maintains constant, full awareness of its surrounding, regardless of the platform’s situation. PITBULL continuously tracks target, threat, and friendly forces positions. “PITBULL does much more than sensing and control. As a smart AI-driven system, PITBULL uses video motion detection (VMD) and other techniques to detect, track, and designate targets automatically. Using advanced pattern recognition and other algorithms, the system assesses target status, for example, designates an armed person or tracking a fleeting vehicle. This information can be used to prioritize the response and determine the course of action.” The AI is embedded in the RCWS hardware firmware to minimize response time.

Optimized for Robotics

The weapon controls’ ‘self-awareness’ functions optimize PITBULL’s robotic systems applications. Using the system’s panoramic sensors, PITBULL maintains an autonomous situational awareness with a built-in Anti-Collision System (ACS) and multiple dynamic Fire Inhibiting Zones (FIZ), safeguarding the platform itself and nearby friendly forces. Optional integration with Hostile Fire Sensors (HFS) and Ground Surveillance Radar (GSR) is also optimized for unmanned operation. It enables PITBULL to alert hostile fire events and trigger responding measures accordingly.

 

PITBULL can be used as a Counter-UAS weapon, employing soft and hard kill measures. Photo: General Robotics
PITBUL
PITBULL can mount C-UAS jammer for soft-kill, and also use SMART-AI to engage targets with its firearms in hard-kill. Photo: General Robotics

Counter-UAS Capability

PITBULL can also be used as a counter-drone system (C-UAS). Leveraging its Smart-AI automation and effectors for a soft and hard kill, PITBULL C-UAS operates a radar for target detection and EO sensors for classification, recognition, and targeting. Electronic jammers are used for ‘soft-kill’ and machine guns or AGS for the hard kill. Using airburst 40 mm grenades, the system can defeat drones from hundreds of meters away with a high probability.

“We developed the PITBULL as a robust yet lightweight system offering seamless remote control by a single operator. The dual-axis electro-mechanical stabilization, automatic tracking, video motion detection, and fire control automation results in an accurate weapon laying, delivering rapid and precise firepower from manned and unmanned platforms.” Weapon control is done locally or remotely through an intuitive touch screen tablet encased in a jacket providing the intuitive operating and safety buttons for Point-and-Shoot™.

“At the bottom line, the reduced weight and size of the PITBULL derive significant benefits,” said Gal, “It means PITBULL can be mounted on smaller, lightweight platforms and handle the recoil loads with less weight and energy. As a result, the system consumes less power and delivers higher accelerations, resulting in better accuracy and agility. Drawing less than 80 Watts, PITBULL can be used on a silent watch for many hours without an engine start.

These unique attributes contributed to integrating General Robotics’ weapon stations on IAI’s Jaguar UGV, used by the Israel Defense Forces on the ‘smart and lethal border’ pilot autonomous border protection system deployed on the Northern Gaza border. The project has recently completed the first year of successful operational deployment.

Russia – Ukraine War 2022 – Air Support Turns to Unmanned Assets

This armored assault variant of the Mi8 AMTSh is equipped with infrared countermeasures on the wingtips and flare dispensers.

The Russians made extensive use of air support by combat aircraft and helicopters. Airstrike missions were launched from airfields in Russia at targets on the front lines in the north, center, and east. Airstrikes were directed primarily at urban targets, while helicopters mainly engaged Ukraine forces in the open areas. Airstrikes employed Su-25, Su-24, and Su-34, while Su-30 provided air cover. However, Russian air activity over Ukraine during the first weeks of the war was relatively limited due to the risk of fratricide. Since Ukraine use similar aircraft (Su-25, Su-27), the lack of coordination with the air defense and Ukraine’s remaining S-300 and Buk air defenses posed a severe risk to the Russians. The Russians were surprised by the high loss rate, exposed to anti-aircraft fire from MANPADS, SHORAD, and S-300/SA-11 air defenses.

Mi-24 combat helicopter releases flares. Extensive use of dispensable countermeasures often leaves these heavy helicopters unprotected as they run out of flares.
Russian Mi8AMTSh carrying infrared EO countermeasures and flare dispensers.

Helicopters were employed extensively, and some engaged in close support to ground units or operated independently. Most activities recorded by the media show combined formations of Mi-8/17 and Ka-52 or Mi-28. Mi-24 were operated on both sides. The Russians’ attack helicopters were seen carrying anti-tank guided missiles and free flight 80mm rockets, some of which were fired at a ballistic trajectory to increase range (alas, or much less accuracy.)

Aircraft and helicopters on both sides used flares extensively but lacked the capacity to face the dense MANPADS on long sorties over the enemy area. Some Russian helicopters were also equipped with electro-optic jammer countermeasures, but these did not prevent losses.

Ukraine soldiers are using the Thales Martlet anti-aircraft missiles supplied by the UK against Russian drones and helicopters.
These TB2 deployed by Ukraine forces on recce and strike missions were lost and found by the Russian forces.
Another TB2 drone shot down over Ukraine

Unmanned Air Support

Unmanned aviation is having a great impact on both sides of this conflict. The heavy losses of unmanned assets on both sides reflect the extensive use of drones. Ukraine is operating tactical drones such as the TB2, which is being used as a reconnaissance and attack platform.

A Polish WB Group Warmate loitering weapon used by the Ukrainian forces

They also use various loitering munitions, including some Warmates delivered by Poland, and the smaller Switchblade delivered by the USA. The most recent shipments also include the mysterious ‘Pheonix Ghost’ loitering missile believed to be a range and loiter extended version of the Switchblade.

This Russian Zala 421-16E miniature recce drone has crashed over Ukraine.

The Russian Army also uses drones, primarily the small-tactical Orlan-10 and larger Orlan-30, the Forpost, that mostly perform reconnaissance missions, although it was modified to use laser beam riding anti-tank missiles. The brand new Orion drone has also seen combat in Ukraine, at least, based on debris found after such a drone crashed in Ukraine territory. Russian special forces also use loitering weapons – primarily the Zala-KYB.

Zala KYB loitering weapon found in Ukraine

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The Russian – Ukraine War 2022 – Opening Moves

Planned as a swift strategic move aimed at Ukraine’s center of power, the Russian strategic plan relied on a special operation to ‘decapitate’ the leadership in Kyiv. This move was coordinated with airstrikes against Ukraine’s air defenses, while ground movements were considered supporting maneuvers that were not thoroughly planned, nor were they communicated with fielded units. In February, most Russian units encircling Ukraine moved to march orders, but the troops were unaware of the invasion plans and did not prepare for a long battle.

When the orders were received on the 24th of February and units began rolling forward across the border, the operational forces lacked adequate planning and intelligence and did not prepare ammunition and supplies for the battle. They were unaware of the terrain and mobility constraints expected downrange and did not prepare the equipment to deal with those obstacles. Neither they had the foresight of an alternative’ plan B’ in case that ‘decapitation’ move failed.

Expecting the Russian move, the Ukrainians deployed their military in small teams, heavily loaded with anti-tank weapons. These teams were sparsely deployed in woodlands and hamlets where they could surprise the Russian armored forces and destroy the leading armor elements with anti-tank weapons. These included locally produced laser beam riding missiles such as the Corsar, Skiff (also known as the Stunga P), and Barrier, all using direct attack. Additionally, newly delivered from the US and the UK, top attack anti-tank weapons such as the NLAW and Javelin were used.

Russian BM27 Uragan rocket launcher destroyed on a road north of Kyiv/

The Ukrainians fought their war on the roads. Destroying the Russian lead element would stop the remaining convoy on the road. Heavy vehicles that tried to move off-road quickly bogged down in the soggy ground and were abandoned by their crews, and many were captured intact by the Ukrainians. These tank hunter teams were assisted by drones that could spot the moving Russian formations and send anti-tank teams to destroy them even when they were hidden in the woods. Operating in small groups that relied on aerial surveillance to avoid close combat with the enemy, the small, ATGW-laden teams could set up deadly ambushes with minimum risk. The Ukrainians also used Unmanned aerial vehicles to spot, track and attack the Russian forces.

Mi-8 helicopters carrying airborne troops on their assault of Gostomel airport near Kyiv.

While the Russian side lacked an adequate view of the situation in Ukraine, Ukraine seemed to have maintained a good idea of the Russian side based on intelligence they obtained by themselves and extensive support provided by the West. One of Russia’s main thrusts was an airborne assault on the Gostomel airport near Kyiv, aimed to establish an airhead at the base where Russia could rapidly build up a solid force to seize the capital. This move abruptly ended as the lead elements of the airborne power (VDV) that were flown in to take the airbase were defeated by a strong Ukraine force that rushed to defend the airport. Gostomel eventually fell into Russian hands and was occupied by Russian troops for more than a month, but due to the damages caused during the attack, it could not support the airhead it was designed to provide.

How could the Ukrainian reserve forces defeat the Russian attack on the crack VDV? According to some sources, the CIA provided indications of the Russian plans, which may have helped the Ukrainian’s swift response. Real-time intelligence was also instrumental later in the war; the Ukraine intelligence helped locate and target senior Russian officers and kill high-ranking leaders with sniper, artillery, or drone attacks.

Ukrainian forces also hunted down Russian special forces that infiltrated in disguise into the capital and other cities to help in the quick takeover move Moscow prepared. As the Ukrainian forces adopted a defense-in-depth strategy, they gradually gave-up terrain to the advancing Russians, causing extensive attrition to the invading force. Such operations relied on mobility constraints caused by the terrain. They assisted with battlefield shaping actions, including mining, demolition of bridges and roads, and obstacles laid out on the roads to channel the invading forces into kill zones. Since the Russians restricted their movements to the roads, combat engineering elements were often absent from the lead elements and could not be used to overcome the obstacles. Before they reached their objectives, these actions managed to slow down the Russians to a complete halt.

With the failure of the planned ‘decapitation,’ Russian ground forces continued moving in. Still, the whole operation collapsed into disarray, lacking planning and coordination of groups and within units, absence of artillery and air defense coverage, coordination with air support coverage, casualty evacuation, or logistics shortage. This has led to a very high casualty rate of up to 20 percent in some units, which devastated the morale and cohesiveness of the fighting units.

Further reading:

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This Russian armored formation was surprised by a Ukrainian ambush located on the main road passing a small village.

Preparations for the Russian – Ukraine War

This satellite image taken Nov. 1, 2021, shows the presence of a large ground force deployment near Yelnya, Smolensk region, Russia, about 260 kilometers north of the Ukrainian border. Photo: Maxar Technologies

The preparations were carried out for years on both sides, as Ukraine and Russia exchanged fires on the Eastern front of Donbas and Luhansk in 2013. Over the past eight years, Russian special forces assisted the Ukrainian separatists in these regions but did not move forward or out of areas occupied in 2014. On the other side, Ukraine increased its military force, investing in the local manufacturing of new equipment and modernization of equipment initially produced in the Soviet era.

The Ukraine military received substantial numbers of new equipment developed and produced by the local defense industries and received new equipment and training provided by Western countries, primarily the USA, UK, and other NATO members. In late 2021 the Russians began concentrating large forces in Belarus and the areas of Western Russia bordering Ukraine. These forces included 10 Russian armies gathered from the Eastern, Central, Western, and Southern military districts, all these forces arrived in Western Russia to take part in extensive military exercises with Belarus. After completing those exercises, about 120 Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) were deployed along the Ukraine borders, ready to move south and west into Ukraine if ordered. The units from the Southern District have joined two armies of Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists from the Donbas.

Russian Battalion Tactical Group

The BTG is the primary combined-arms fighting unit of the Russian Army. Since 2012 about 170 BTGs have been established by grouping available assets and training troops to fight as independent combined arms teams. The BTG is designed as an agile, maneuverable formation that possesses high levels of organic firepower, enabling it to operate for a limited scope without fire support from higher echelons. The BTG is a powerful, armored-vehicle heavy formation, mobilizing 75 tanks, artillery (howitzers and rockets), mobile air defense, and combat engineering assets. BTGs were envisaged as multi-theater operators, with the ability to shift from rapid assault to long-range attacks or support other units. The BTG formation has about 3,000 troops, but only 200 are infantrymen, a relatively small number required to defend the battalion in complex terrain and on marching orders. While the BTG’s combat element is designed to operate across the landscape, they are dependent on the extensive logistical tail of the service and support that binds those combat elements to roads. In the Ukraine north sector, those vulnerabilities were fully exploited by the defending troops during the first phase of the war.

At the time of the Russian buildup, tension increased as Moscow demanded Kyiv refrain from its bid to join NATO and the EU. While NATO did not invite Ukraine to join, fearing they would have to confront the Russian Army under the alliance’ Article 5 commitment, almost all NATO member nations rushed to help Ukraine defend itself. They sent large numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons that could be rapidly deployed to the front lines and be used without a complex logistical footprint.

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The Artillery War on the Russia – Ukraine Conflict

Russian 2S7M Malka heavy self propelled howitzer firing.

As Ukraine relied on the same equipment as the Russian forces, they were overmatched by the Russian numerical superiority in artillery. After two months of activity and the systematic destruction of Ukraine’s ammunition manufacturing plants, Ukraine is running low on Eastern standard ammunition (152mm, 122mm, rockets). That is why obtaining long-range artillery from the West was the #1 priority for Ukraine. Among the artillery pieces recently supplied or promised to Ukraine were M198 and M777 towed howitzers from the USA and Australia, Archer self-propelled howitzers from Sweden, and Ceasar SP howitzers from France. Once Ukraine deploys western 155mm artillery on their front line, obtaining supplies of suitable ammunition from neighboring NATO countries would be easier and more available.

Ukraine received significant ammunition loads, including Excalibur GPS-guided rounds that can strike targets within less than 10 meters of a target from a distance of 40 km; however, this is less accurate than the Ukraine-made laser-guided rounds Ukraine is using now. Unlike the laser homing munitions, Excalibur does not require laser designation in the firing loop. Another advantage of the Archer and Ceasar is their autonomy and quick reaction. Unlike towed artillery, truck-mobile guns can enter a position and start firing within a few minutes and scoot to a hideout before the enemy locates and direct counter-battery fire against these guns.

Ukraine’s other new weapons are M270 MLRS and M142 HIMARS multiple-rocket launcher systems. When equipped with GMLRS 227mm rockets, these weapon systems can strike targets up to 70 km. Both can also employ the ATACMS tactical missile that can carry a warhead of 230 kg to a range of 300 km.

M777 towed artillery supplied to Ukraine as part of the military support provided the US is now committed to the eastern front of the war against Russia.

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Russian – Ukraine War 2022 – Artillery, Rockets and Missiles

Russian firing of heavy artillery rockets BM30 Smerch. Photo: Russian MOD

The collapse of the first phase has led to a fires-heavy campaign. The Russians have used most weapon types in their arsenal, from volleys of long-range rockets, missiles, cruise missiles, and aerial bombing. Ukraine also used many of these weapons – the short- and medium-range multiple launcher rocket systems such as BM21 Grad (122mm), BM27 Organ (220mm), and BM30 Smerch (300mm). Artillery formations included the towed D-30 and self-propelled assets, including the 2S19, 2S32 152mm howitzers, and the 2S7M Malka 203mm howitzer that could strike at the longest range of 55 km.

Russian BM27 Uragan rocket launcher destroyed on a road north of Kyiv/

The rockets, artillery, and missile barrages were devastating, particularly against infrastructures and urban areas. However, due to their distinctive signature and predictable rearming procedures, artillery formations often fell prey to superior intelligence and surveillance provided by the West.

This intel was coupled with real-time reconnaissance obtained by amateur drone pilots that joined to support the military to direct counter-artillery fires and military drones such as the TB2, that could also strike the firing units with small but deadly guided weapons. Both sides used similar assets, except the mighty TOS-1A thermobaric rocket launcher deployed with several BTGs participated in the operation, but there is no evidence of its performance in the battles.

A battery of Russian self-propelled guns 2S7M 203mm “Malka” was positioned in Donetsk. Photo: Russian MOD

The Russians turned to more extensive and longer-range weapons to overcome this vulnerability, including the Iskandar-M and -K, sea-launched Kaliber, air-launched cruise missiles, and the very-long range Kinzhal hypersonic weapon that made its debut in this war. Coastal-based Bastion (Onyx) and ship-based Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles were also used against targets in the coastal region. Missiles attacks were largely successful, as different missiles overcame Ukrainian air defenses using various techniques. Hypersonic speed (Kinzhal), using decoys and terminal maneuvers (Iskander), low altitude nap-of-the-ground flight (Caliber), or high supersonic speed (KH39, Onyx/Yakhont) were all used.

The Russians used everything they could fire, indiscriminately attacking targets with military significance. They struck ammunition reserves or military-industrial plants, municipal and government buildings, infrastructures such as fuel, water, transportation hubs, and residential buildings, intending to cause terror and remove the civilian population, as they have done in the past Chechnya and Syria.

Ukraine, on its side, also used ballistic missiles, primarily the SS-21 Tochka, that can attack targets at a distance of 70-120 km. These relatively old missiles scored marginal successes, and quite a few such missiles were lost before they reached their targets for unknown reasons. (The Artillery War – Continued)

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Russia – Ukraine War 2022 – Consolidation in the Eastern Front 

A Russian armored column led by a T-90S tank on the move in Donetsk. Note the Shtora soft-kill countermeasures, used as a standard issue on some of the tanks of this type.

Realizing they were not achieving their goals in the north, the Russian command decided to regroup its forces in the East of Ukraine to seize a land strip along the Azov and the Black Sea, an area that the Ukraine separatists that support Russia could control. The terrain in the eastern part of Ukraine is open, and the ground has dried since the winter enabling military formations to move off roads. Although most of the Ukraine army was deployed in this region, the Russian forces maintained numerical superiority.

The area is far from the Western and Southern border with Ukraine’s European neighbors, forcing the shipment of military support along long roads where they are exposed to Russian air and missile attacks. The Russian forces that moved from the north were depleted in equipment, and troops suffered low morale. These units can slowly recover and regroup into combat formations to be brought back to fighting status.

As part of this process, the Russian forces use extensive artillery fires and unmanned aerial vehicles to soften Ukrainian lines and seek the vulnerable spots where they can advance the line with minimal losses. This slow process is part of the consolidation of the Russian forces, which eventually will bring officers and troops to refresh the BTG combat techniques, and procedures and becomes more effective.

In this conflict, Russian faces a silent coalition – Ukraine in the front and the entire Western world behind it. This can escalate to a frontal confrontation between Russia and the West. Stopping this flow of weapons is a primary goal for the Russian attacks on railroad stations, bridges, and infrastructures, and attacks on airfields are also aimed at stopping the deliveries, but weapons continue to flow in and it seems the Russians have difficulties in interdicting those shipments once they leave the point of entries.

Electronic Warfare (EW) has also been employed on this front since 2014. The Ukraine army’s command, control, and communications systems were Russian-made, making Ukraine’s C4 transparent to Russian intelligence and attack. Since 2014 Ukraine has invested much effort in developing and deploying indigenous communications and C4 technologies, while the Russians did not adapt their electronic intelligence accordingly. This effort has made Ukraine’s C4 and air defenses less vulnerable to Russian exploitations. In contrast, Russian C4 remains exposed to Ukraine’s SIGINT and EW, mainly where Russians use unsecured communications and cellphones to handle crises. Compromising communications and operational security has led to a relatively high rate of casualties among senior commanders – in the ranks of colonels and generals.

The open terrain denies Ukraine the advantage of stealth, forcing them to dig into the ground, where they are equally vulnerable to Russian drones. Over the open terrain, helicopters seem to be able to fly lower and evade MANPADS more effectively, as, in such terrain, MANPADS and ATGW teams have fewer places they can hide. The Russians have gathered more experience with counter-drone techniques, scoring more successes downing Ukraine’s TB2s.

Both sides use commercial drones for reconnaissance, locating targets and directing artillery fires, movements of tactical forces and even snipers.

Both sides rely heavily on tactical and commercial drones to find, locate, and track enemy positions and guide artillery fires. Where laser designation is available, laser-guided artillery rounds are used, by both sides, with impressive precision and efficiency. As they did in the north, the Russians concentrated large artillery formations to bombard and soften the targets they planned to attack, whether in the open or in urban areas like Mariupol.

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