Despite flourishing civilian applications, for many years Internet was nothing more than a dream at the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Israel’s high-tech sector has long asserted that the IDF had not entered the Internet era, with all that entails: poor communications and lack of information. Major communications projects and tenders, called “Gemstone” among the ground forces and “Blue Sash” in the Air Force, dealt not with Internet, but operational telephony. It seemed that the IDF, like a fleet aircraft carrier, had trouble changing direction.
However, it seems that things have been changing in the past two years, and the IDF has leapfrogged a generation. In 1998, newly appointed Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz initiated the IDF 2000 project, appointing teams to study advances in various military fields. One of the conclusions was to revolutionize communications, computers and Internet. At the time the Signal, Electronics and Computers Corps was responsible for these issues, but it dealt mainly with operational applications in the field.
IDF 2000 found deficiencies in all of these matters, and two key measures were undertaken to rectify them. One was to transfer the Signals Corps to the Technology and Logistics Division (formerly the Technology and Logistics Branch). The second was to establish a new unit under the command of the General Staff Operations Division, the compucations unit, to take over some of the functions of the Signals Corps, including radio communications, telephony, video conferencing, Internet and Computers. The Signals Corps retains its operational roles.
Computer mediated communications is an Israeli invention; Israelis also coined the word “tiksuv" [compucations] to describe the integration of communications and computers. Brig.-Gen. Amnon Katz of the Signal Corps was appointed commander of the new unit. Today, after two and half years in the post, he is retiring from the IDF and entering civilian life. Someone in the IDF spokesman’s office decided this was a good time to reveal the IDF’s new world and to present General Katz to the media.
The compucations unit was established in September 1999 by Katz, who had previously served as Communications Officer for the Ground Corps Command. In addition to the functions taken over from the Signals Corps, the new unit had two other vital roles: outline a computer mediated communications doctrine for the IDF; and set the specifications for IDF operational communications.
As mentioned above, the compucations unit was established to repair the deficiencies in these areas. Katz says, “There was a sense that the communications infrastructure was inadequate, especially for field deployment. There were deficiencies in applications and information systems, especially in operations. In addition, there was no direction from the general staff, which led to duplication and poor communications between different branches. The answer was to establish the compucations unit in 1999.”
IDF communications now has both fixed line and mobile communications, just as in the civilian sector. The difference is that the military communications are divided between administrative and operational communications.
Fixed line administrative communications use a network of servers for 100,000 users, based on four large and scores of small switchboards. Bezeq has the maintenance contract for this network. The fixed line operational network (the red telephones in military headquarters) serves 15,000 users, based on six servers. These networks constitute the platform for all applications, including data communications, video conferencing, etc.
Mobile administrative communications use a closed virtual network of several tens of thousands of users on Pele-Phone and MIRS Communications cellular telephones. Users have a five-digit number, and can make ordinary external calls. The network relies on Pele-Phone and MIRS infrastructure services, and is connected to the fixed line administrative network. It is important to note that in addition to the designated IDF administrative network, almost every soldier in the IDF has his or her own personal civilian cellular telephone. Israel’s cellular operators compete for this market, offering soldiers free telephones.
A mobile operational network is now being set up.
The IDF’s communications networks works on the principle that there is no connection between the administrative and operational networks, but there is a connection between the different administration networks and between the different operational networks.
The big revolution in the IDF right now is the Internet. The IDF currently has an intranet that serves tens of thousands of users. Until recently, this intranet was separated according to service branch, but it has since been expanded to include almost all IDF units, which now have e-mail capability. Needless to say, rank and job determine access.
Katz says, “Most offices now have a data communications outlet. This was not the case two years ago. The network installtion project was executed rapidly to hook up most Army units.”
The data communications hook-up project cost NIS 60 million. Bandwidth is now being expanded at a cost of NIS 15 million, as a bridge before the next project.
Six months ago, the project to provide e-mail to all IDF units was completed. It is so effective that ordinary soldiers can now send e-mails to the Chief of Staff.
The IDF is now undergoing the revolution the civilian sector went through a few years ago, in which absolutely anybody can get the e-mail address of a Bill Gates or a Bill Clinton. Today, every Israeli soldier can gripe to the Chief of Staff. No answer is promised, but at least there is assurance that the letter will reach its destination.
“Globes”: This is an administrative Internet. What about an operational system?
Katz: “When a unit leaves its permanent base to another one, all it has to do is plug into the right outlet and it will back on line.”
What about in the field?
“We are now testing a mobile system for the field, using a satellite linkup and Bezeq’s data network.”
The Internet has major security problems. How is the Army overcoming them?
“There is protection from internal and external threats. The intranet is walled off from the regular network and naturally, the operational network has additional security measures.”
What about outside the IDF’s intranet?
“IDF external websites are handled by the IDF Spokesman. These are generally websites of the various service branches. The IDF published a tender to design the sites, which was won by ["Globes" sister company] Scepia. The IDF’s ISPs are NetVision and Bezeq International. The IDF has two ISPs for survivability, in light of the attacks on its websites at the start of the intifada.”
Is there also dial-up networking?
“Yes. Some users have dial-up networking, while others use point-to-point connections to the IDF Computer and Data Communications Network Center, which connects them to an ISP.”
The compucations unit is now working on two important projects: an upgrade of the current operations telephony network, and a secure cellular military operations network.
The operations telephony upgrade will cost NIS 1 billion, and take five years. It includes expanding the fiber-optic network by several hundred kilometers, upgrading transmission equipment, switchboards, and data communications and management and monitoring systems. The aim is to double the number of users on the operations telephony network, hooking up units that are not currently linked to it.
Katz says, “The project is necessary for the realization of the information revolution in the IDF. We will provide sufficient bandwidth to meet advanced multimedia and operational needs.”
The project consists of 11 sub-projects, two of which are already in the advanced stages: choosing a consultancy and integration firm and expanding the fiber-optic network. Bezeq won the latter project a few months ago, to lay 700 km. of fiber-optic cable at a cost of NIS 300 million.
Did Bezeq win a tender for the project?
“There was no tender, but a decision to use a single supplier, since Bezeq already laid 2,000 km. of fiber-optic cable for the IDF.”
Katz says the project to establish a secure cellular military operations network, “will allow voice and data communications that will revolutionize the modern battlefield.” The systems includes a cell-phone hands-free set for every operational vehicle, including tanks and artillery.
Motorola (NYSE:MOT) won the $100 million tender for this project in May 2000. Development and manufacturing of the devices will be carried out by Motorola Israel. Under the contract, Motorola has worldwide marketing rights for similar systems.
The system is the next generation of MIRS-type systems, providing both cellular and wireless communications, using Tetra European global radio communications standard technology. Tetra standard systems are already operating in Europe, but the Israeli system will be adapted for military use.
The system will have several thousand users, and can be expanded as needed. Testing will begin in late 2003, and it is scheduled to be operation in early 2004.
Why is the system a quantitative leap in the IDF’s operational capability?
“Commanders will be able to use encrypted telephones while moving, to ask for artillery fire, directions or supplies. In principle, fixed bases will be able to talk to mobile units in the field by telephone instead of radio.”
The system will supplement the existing fixed line system. In addition to cellular communications, it will have point-to-point and point-to-multipoint capability. Katz says, “The system will have a high degree of survivability. If cellular communications crash, point-to-point communications will still be possible. The IDF will be the first army in the world with an encrypted operational cellular telephone system.”
Katz’s successor is Yehu Even-Zahav, the compucations unit’s operations officer, and will probably be a full-time member of the general staff with the rank of major general. Several weeks ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Shaul Mofaz decided to promote the compucations unit to compucations branch, merging it with the Signals Corps. The branch will consist of the compucations corps, the computers corps and signals corps. The measure will come into effect this year, and the staff work will have to be completed by May. A committee headed by Maj.-Gen. Benjamin Ganz recommended the measure.
Katz says, “The measure is evidence of the importance the army attributes to compucations. The army changed its concept in recent years. It understands that compucations is a force multiplier. When you know precisely where the units are and where the enemy is, you also know how to apply the right force in the right place at the right time. This allows you to maintain smaller forces, since there is no need to be everywhere all the time. Compucations is a force multiplier because it lets me know how to make optimal use of my force.”
Published by Israel's Business Arena on 11 April 2002