30/1/2014 Ami Rojkes Dombe - israeldefense.com
Unmanned Ground Vehicles fitted with Remotely Controlled Weapon Stations are a part of the future battlefield. “Our goal is to adapt the stations to a wide range of UGV types,” says Yizhar S., in charge of land systems marketing at Rafael
Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) on the battlefield are an established fact. If, until a few years ago, anyone doubted the feasibility of this technology, he should look to the Order of Battle of the US Army to understand the global trend – in 2004 the US Army had about 150 UGVs, and today their ORBAT consists of tens of thousands. For the Israeli industries, it is a developing global market. According to various forecasts, it is expected to reach a turnover of about $12 billion by 2019.
One of the derivatives of this market consists of ‘shooter’ UGVs. Admittedly, this is a problematic technology, to say the least, in terms of ethics and safety, but as far as operational aspects are concerned, a UGV fitted with a Remotely Controlled Weapon Station (RCWS) is the ‘Silver Bullet’ in the eyes of many. The ability, on the one hand, to initiate offensive action, including fire, while on the other minimizing the risk to human life to zero, is attractive not only to field commanders and warfighters, but also to the politicians, who identify in this technology a breakthrough political tool.
“The development of weapon stations for UGVs is one of the objectives of Rafael’s business strategy,” says Yizhar S., in charge of land systems marketing at Rafael. “Over the last few years we gained extensive experience in this field, from a layout of stationary weapon stations on towers, which includes between four and six weapon stations controlled from a distance of several kilometers through optical fibers, to weapon stations fitted to such unmanned vehicles as the Protector USV.
“As the development processes for the sea and land theaters take place at Rafael under the same division, the knowledge we gained through the development of the Protector USV is used in the development of ground vehicles as well. Admittedly, there is a difference between the environments and the conditions under which the vehicles are operated, but as far as the aspects of steering, safety and control are concerned, both environments are similar. On land it is a little more difficult to steer the vehicle, owing to the changing terrain conditions, but we have already found solutions for these challenges.
“One should bear in mind that this technology precedes most of the world in this field. We are currently participating in one of the world’s first projects involving the mounting of a weapon station on a UGV used by IDF. In the context of this project, we examine the feasibility of arming several vehicles, commanded remotely using cameras and other sensors. It is another phase in the development of the technology, pursuant to the last five years during which the IDF have been employing stationary Sentry-Tech weapon stations.”
Adapting Weapon Stations to UGVs of Various Sizes
Another challenge Rafael is addressing calls for the dimensions of the weapon stations to be reduced so that they may fit UGVs of various sizes. “Our weapon stations are basically suitable for standard vehicles,” explains S. “For small UGVs whose load carrying capacity is limited – and most of them belong in this category – the weapon stations need to be smaller. We have an idea for the development of a station for small firearms such as a handgun, but it will be a relatively long development process. Once completed, Rafael will have a diversified range of weapon stations in various sizes, which would provide solutions for a diversified range of ground platforms at different price levels.
“As far as the technological aspect is concerned, Rafael’s advantage stems from the ability to control the weapon station and from its safety standards. We are world leaders in this field, mainly owing to the requirements of the IDF, which are a highly advanced military regarding the field of weapon stations, compared to other armed forces. Even the Americans do not rush to adopt such stations owing to the safety issue. We have passed the safety tests of the IDF for the sea environment as well as for the land environment. All that remains are technological challenges with which we would be able to cope.”
The technological complexity notwithstanding, there is still no structured regulation around the world for the field of shooter UGVs. He explains that in Europe and the US they seldom address this issue owing to the safety aspects. Asia and South America are still untapped markets for this field, so at this point there is not a lot of demand for these vehicles.
“This technology will remain the domain of very few countries in the future as well,” says Yizhar S. “The target audience for these vehicles will be relatively limited, owing to safety considerations. At the same time, as long as there is demand in the IDF, we will continue to develop this field. In the world of HLS it is not likely that shooter UGVs will enter service with police forces and we would see them on city streets. In the end, what you have here is an unmanned, armed vehicle that you want to deploy in an urban environment teeming with people. There is still a lot of apprehension around this issue.”