HOLON, Israel – Israeli troops are now sporting gear that Dick Tracy would be proud of: tiny video screens, worn on the wrist, which display video shot by unmanned airplanes.
Similar screens have been in use for close to a year in the Israeli military’s attack helicopters, helping pilots identify and strike Palestinian militants within seconds.
The technology, which is also in use in tanks and armored vehicles, was a closely guarded secret until the company that developed it offered reporters a rare glimpse at the system this week.
“We are fulfilling the science fiction movies that we see,” said Itzhak Beni, chief executive of the Elisra Group’s Tadiran Electronic Systems and Tadiran Spectralink companies.
Beni said the communications system has “shortened tremendously” the amount of time it takes to identify and strike a target.
“Before it was minutes, 10 to 12 minutes. Now it’s a matter of seconds,” he said.
Israel agreed to halt its policy of “targeted killings” under an informal cease-fire declared last month by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. But after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis last week, Israel said it would consider resuming the practice.
The Israeli army declined to comment about the new technology. But Israeli security officials have acknowledged experiencing a greatly improved ability to carry out airstrikes to the point that targeted militants no longer have time to flee, in contrast to the early days of fighting in late 2000. They cite improvements in many areas, not any single technology.
The screen being field-tested by a limited number of footsoldiers is about 3 inches wide, and weighs just a few ounces. Code-named V-Rambo, it’s attached to the wrist by a velcro strap.
The LCD screens display color video that is beamed directly from drones in real time at 30 frames per second — the same rate as broadcast TV.
Attack helicopters have been fitted with five-inch screens. The “Video Receiver” systems also include small reception units that are installed on the vehicles and helicopters or carried in soldiers’ vests.
The new technology is considered much more than a novelty.
Military drones have been used by Israel since the early 1980s. But until recently, the information they gathered was sent to a ground command center that interpreted it and then shared it with forces in the field. The Tadiran systems allow the information to be received instantly by the various forces, company officials said.
The drones are still controlled by a ground command center, but the various forces have the ability to guide the camera to meet their specific needs.
This real-time information has enabled Israel to perfect its ability to attack from the sky. During more than four years of fighting with the Palestinians, Israeli helicopter airstrikes have killed dozens of militants.
The system can also greatly reduce combat casualties by allowing troops “to see everything that is behind the hill and around the corner,” Beni said. At the same time, the company said the improved information can help troops minimize civilian casualties in the crowded refugee camps and city streets where Israeli troops and Palestinian militants often clash.
Tadiran only recently received clearance to show the system to the public. It plans to unveil the system formally next week at a Tel Aviv conference on urban warfare and “low intensity” conflict.
The company also showed off a system resembling a video game that allows soldiers to control unmanned ground vehicles. The green console has a small flat screen and two joysticks, one on each side. One joystick controls the vehicle, while the other controls the items on the vehicle, such as its cameras.
The computer screen shows other information, including video footage from drones and detailed maps of the battlefield.
The technology is expected to be part of the “Gladiator” unmanned ground vehicles being developed by the U.S. Marines. The company announced the Gladiator contract, which includes partners Carnegie Mellon University and United Defense Industries Inc., last month.
It also has identified NATO countries and nations in the Far East as potential customers for its technologies, Beni said.
Next week’s conference, which kicks off Monday, will focus on “how to fight terrorist and guerrilla entities that use force,” said Brig. Gen. Yossi Heymann, one of the planners.