July 02, 2012
Credit: Credit: Elbit Systems
David Eshel Tel Aviv
Whoever studies the phenomenon of some commanders with their eyes glued to computer screens, observing operations halfway around the world, should start with Israel's obsession with technology.
Reaching a fevered pitch after the Second Lebanon War, this process is culminating in an unprecedented blending of roles, missions and even future force structure, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are striding toward tri-service networking. By introducing its Digital Army Program (DAP)—in Hebrew, Tzayad—designed by Elbit Systems, the IDF aims to enhance situational awareness at all tactical command levels. Its goal is to cement precision firepower from distant commanders as an integral part of maneuver warfare.
The latest version, called Torch 400, will be deployed in an initial stage to battalion commanders and possibly down to company commanders. Most tanks and artillery cannons have already been equipped with the system. “The system can either be in a vehicle or operated by handheld computer, allowing a commander to create digital targets and map out battle plans that will be seen by all of the system users,” explains Col. Gil Maoz, DAP project manager in the Ground Forces Command. “Essentially, a commander can just hit the screen and mark a target, and that target will automatically be seen by tanks, artillery cannons and even attack helicopters.”
In addition to a map of the area of operations, the system provides users with a 3-D version of the battlefield, providing commanders an even better assessment of their battle plans. Since the system also marks the location of other users, it is effective in preventing morale-sapping friendly fire incidents.
But how did this friendly technology of plasma screens become one of the 2006 Lebanon war's most despised symbols? While one of the pervasive images of the war was of commanders leading operations safely from Israel while watching the fighting on screens, Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 saw brigade commanders leading their forces again from deep inside Gaza.
Decades of IDF leadership tradition emphasized that senior commanders must accompany their forces in battle. With Tzayad, a senior commander might have an unprecedented real-time situational awareness picture at his disposal, enabling him to intervene with long-range precision ordnance. However, even the most advanced command, control, computers, communications and intelligence (C4I) system cannot replace personal leadership in battle.