As part of its preparations for an upcoming ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army is planning to use in combat for the first time ever an unmanned ground vehicle, the Guardium, which is already prowling the border between Israel and Gaza. The materialization of a ground offensive will also serve IAI and Elbit Systems to operationally exhibit their new death-gadget, thereby expanding their sales to foreign customers.
Guardium in action (Photo: g-nius.co.il)
Censorship strictly blocks reports about the full use of robot cars, although sufficient information has been released by the army itself and the producer to examine how it could be used on the Gaza-Israel border.
The Guardium UGV is an unmanned armoured car that carries cameras, electronic sensors and weapons. According to the Israeli army, the new robot vehicle is able to patrol independently, but is most effective as an additional to infantry patrols. It can be operated in real time by a distant command center -- similar to the way armed drones are flown by far-off pilots -- or they can be programmed to run patrol on predetermined routes without human intervention.
The Guardium is the outcome of a joint venture set up by Israeli Air Force Industries (IAI) and Elbit Systems (G-Nius), to develop and manufacture a land combat vehicle for patrols and other missions.
The UGV can carry a wide variety of sensors, including video and thermal cameras, with auto-target acquisition and capture, sensitive microphone, powerful loudspeakers and two way radio. The vehicle can also be equipped with lethal or less than lethal weapons which can be directed and operated from the Main Control Center (MCC).
A fleet of Guardium vehicles can be used as sentries, controlled from the MCC, from where they are launched on routine patrols, ambushes or operating in response to events received from an early warning or perimeter defense system. The MCC is also provided with automatic tactical area definition, by terrain, doctrine and intelligence, which assist in preparation of the operational planning and programming for USVs. Each USV can also be manually controlled by remote control.
The Israeli army website claims that this robot can even react to unscheduled events, in line with a set of guidelines specifically programmed for the site characteristics and security routines. That means that if the Guardium sees something it doesn't like, it can apparently take action all on its own -- likely alerting a command center to the presence of something suspicious, not opening fire without notifying a human operator first.
The Guardium UGV uses the TomCar chassis, a small, lightweight (ca. 600 kg) vehicle, designed to carry two people and their gear used in Israeli patrols. The vehicle is equipped with an automated tactical positioning system and can operate autonomously on and off road, at speeds up to 80 km/h. The vehicle can carry a payload of up to 300 kg, including light armor shield to protect vital systems. A fleet of Guardium vehicles can be used as sentries, controlled from the MCC, from where they are launched on routine patrols, ambushes or operating in response to events received from an early warning or perimeter defense system. The MCC is also provided with automatic tactical area definition, by terrain, doctrine and intelligence, which assist in preparation of the operational planning and programming for USVs. Each USV can also be manually controlled by remote control.
Guardium at a robotics conference in Hertzaliya, Israel
A similar robot vehicle was developed by the American company Lockheed Martin, Squad Mission Support System (SMSS) and is being tested by the U.S. army in Afghanistan as robot cargo trucks. The U.S. army objective in using the SMSS is to reduce the load carried by infantrymen, as well as reduce the number of humans needed to re-supply bases in remote areas.
The Israeli robot vehicle goes a step further and is used to run patrols by themselves by using their sensors, equipped with auto-target acquisition. The Israeli army claims its robots can use “various forceful methods to eliminate" threats.
Despite Israel’s operational use of the vehicle since 2008 on the Gaza Strip border, its marketing to foreign customers has being so far limited.
Elbit Systems president and CEO Joseph Ackerman says in an interview with Globes, an Israeli business newspaper, that "Unmanned land vehicles is a very difficult field. The world hasn’t yet grasped their potential.” Ackerman adds that “we haven’t yet been able to persuade potential foreign customers that these vehicles are worthwhile financially, and it should be remembered that land forces are much more conservative than airmen. All they talk about is procuring hundreds of manned armored vehicles and it is hard for them to change their combat doctrine."
The materialization of Israel’s ground offensive against Gaza will also serve IAI and Elbit Systems to operationally exhibit their new death-gadget, thereby expanding their sales to foreign customers.