The importance of innovation for the Israeli army: “It gives you an exponential advantage”


the lieutenant colonel Mark Mendelmann He is one of the men who continue the long tradition of the Israeli army of betting on the innovation to ensure the military advantage of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). A tradition started with a sentence spoken in 1953 by the then Prime Minister and Minister of Defense of Israel, david ben gurionand which became a guiding principle of Israeli national security strategy over the decades: “Since we are lacking in quantity, we must raise the quality”.

Mendalman is head of the branch of Investigation and development from the elite tech unit C4I of the IDFnamed “Sigma”. The main activity of this unit is to provide commanders in the field with the technology they need to manage a combat situation in the best possible way. It is also responsible for all cyber defense in the IDF.

“We take care of bringing the systems, the data-driven tools and all kinds of new developments from the digital age to the battlefield or operational area,” Mendelman explains in an interview with infobae. “We are trying to build a system that uses all of the innovation and all of the data revolution to our development advantage.”

Mark Mendelmann
Lt. Col. Mark Mendelman heads the IDF’s command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I) research and development (R&D) branch, dubbed “Sigma.”

the branch of Investigation and development of your unit points to two main directions, says the Israeli official through Zoom.

On the one hand, “we are building a broad data platform to be able to collect and process all the different types of sensory data we have, from video sensors to other radars. Today every video call, every device, every soldier is a set of new sensors. So the first thing to do is collect them all, do it reliably and securely, and then organize the data.”

The objective, he adds, is to be able to carry out investigations of data scienceto help commanders assess whether they are successfully achieving their objectives over a given period of time.

“For example, they can assess activity over the course of a month and see if the way they deploy forces is effective, achieving a lower level of threat, or if perhaps they can be used more effectively to achieve objectives.”

An Israeli soldier watches as the Iron Dome system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, from a naval patrol boat in the Mediterranean Sea off Israel's southern coast, May 19, 2021 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An Israeli soldier watches as the Iron Dome system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, from a naval patrol boat in the Mediterranean Sea off Israel’s southern coast, May 19, 2021 REUTERS/Amir Cohen (AMIR COHEN/)

On the other hand, the developments of “Sigma” point to “react to immediate threats to the safety of people and forces”. This is accomplished through a new system called Identify & Alert (I&A), which tracks the whereabouts of troops and the places where they may come under enemy fire in real time.

“We are building a system for understanding the battlefield, so each force can automatically get and alert about anything going on around them, for example if they entered an area where there is a threatsays Mendelman. “If someone tries to attack with some kind of precision weapon or rocket launcher you want to alert your forces immediately so they can evacuate Y answer”.

The technologynevertheless, It is not going to replace the human being.

“That is not going to replace the commanders. The decision-making, the responsibility is yours”, clarifies the officer. “But you have to provide them with as much data based on understanding the environment.” Still, “commanders are understanding how technology and data can help and that an effective commander needs to understand and use the data and sensors around him or he won’t be able to do his job well. We work with them by providing them with the means and tools to achieve those goals.”

Cooperation with academia and companies

Israeli technological research and development projects have resulted in some of the most effective and modern defense systems in the world. Something that was -and still is- possible thanks to the cooperation of the army with the academic world, research centers, companies high-tech. Also, thanks to a highly qualified staff.

“We are part of a ecosystem”, Mendelman says about it. “We want to ride the wave of technological development. We’re not trying to invent everything from scratch.”

It also stands out as one of the keys to Israeli success the high degree of training of the officers involved.

“We all study careers, doctorates, masters… our officers compete in the challenges [el campo de Data Science y Machine Learning] of Google Kaggle, in Artificial Intelligence challenges, and they win them. representatives of the world of startups they are also parts of the conversation. We always try to learn and understand what is happening.”

01/30/2020 Israeli soldiers during a protest near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in the West Bank INTERNATIONAL POLITICS Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
01/30/2020 Israeli soldiers during a protest near the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in the West Bank INTERNATIONAL POLITICS Ilia Yefimovich/dpa (Ilia Yefimovich/dpa/)

“It’s a mutual process, so we’re learning from the academy and the academy is learning from what we’re doing,” Mendelman says. “To be at the forefront of data science you have to try to use the best networks from academies and companies like Google and test them for your needs.”

However, “we don’t do things just to have really exciting technology,” he explains. Before starting to develop a new tool, “We understand what is really needed and how we can help.”

“Sometimes we go to the academy or other research centers and try to bring the things we need. We have a high degree of freedom to bring things from the outside in and a high degree of freedom to try and fail. So this is what we’re doing. We try to work on the ground as much as possible and gauge whether we are heading in the right direction as quickly as possible. That’s why we do a lot of product work.”

Better, faster, more innovative

Faced with an increasingly complex geopolitical picture, with more and more countries competing in the development of new weapons and technologies, Mendelman believes that it is essential “focus on yourself and not on the enemy”.

“You have to try to be as good as you can, as fast as you can, as innovative as you can. And you have to assume that the other side is trying and that they’re going to succeed and progress, that you can’t always be aware of what they’re going to do. You need to invest in yourself and improve yourself,” she assures. “True innovation on the battlefield doesn’t come when you’re responding to your enemy. It comes from surprises, when you come up with some innovative technology that hasn’t even been talked about.”

“We understand that it is a mental race in which you have to win and be better to defend the country and homeland,” he adds. “We can’t, and I think we don’t want to, compete for manpower that can hold a rifle and go into battle. I don’t think that’s our way.”

For this young officer, the importance of innovation for the Israeli armed forces has to do in the first place with “a high regard for life.”

“You don’t have to solve problems with brute force. Secondly, Israel is not such a big country, so we have to have our advantages. And innovation is one of those things that gives you an exponential advantage. Innovation gives you those quantum leaps for a real quality advantage,” she says.

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