Countering terrorism requires special skills and knowledge. Arie Egozi examines anti-terror training and simulation systems.

A commonality in military simulations is that they create situations based on past experience.

But warfare has changed. High-intensity experiences don’t count as much; no more tank columns dashing across Central Europe or fighter aircraft in aerial dog fights. The battles being fought today, particularly by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), are of so-called “low intensity” conflict, or in other words, war against terror in its various shapes.

In this warfare there is no list of hard scenarios. The lone terrorist, or a group of terrorists in many cases, is part of the crowd in the street or public square. They mingle, until they take out explosives or automatic weapons and start the killing.

This poses huge challenges to simulation-based training. How can you simulate something that is unexpected, not only in time, but also in type? The possibilities are almost endless.

For many years the IDF, Israeli police and other security organizations have been dealing with terror in all its shapes.

To get as ready as possible for the moment when units have to stop a developing terror attack calls for novel and advanced simulators.

His book, "On Flexibility," Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Meir Finkel addresses one of the basic questions in military studies: How can armies cope effectively with technological and doctrinal surprises – ones that leave them vulnerable to new weapons systems and/or combat doctrines?

Finkel serves as commander of the Dado Center, an IDF General Staff unit whose mission is to develop the IDF's operational art and systemic thinking to assimilate them within the IDF and to assist various IDF bodies – especially major commands – in implementing them.

Finkel contends that the current paradigm – with its over-dependence on intelligence and an all-out effort to predict the nature of the future battlefield and the enemy's capabilities – generally doesn't work.

He said that the history of the Israeli defense forces has many examples for "firsts" – a terror act that the Israeli forces witnessed for the first time. "When the terrorists used gliders to cross the border, landing on the Tel Aviv beach … and terror tunnels from Gaza … these are only a few [firsts]. This makes it very hard to prepare simulations for every possible terror act. What is needed is something that I call a surprises generator – a simulator that will create the wildest types of terror acts, based on what is known about the terror groups that want to hit Israel," he told MS&T.

During his military service, Finkel commanded armored units, including the Chariots of Steel Brigade during the Second Lebanon War. He was also the head of the Army Concepts and Combat Doctrine Department for seven years.

Counter-Terror Unit trains at Lotar for a hostage crisis. Image credit: Eden Briand, IDF.
Counter-Terror Unit trains at Lotar for a hostage crisis. Image credit: Eden Briand, IDF.

Anti-Terror Training in the Desert

Some years ago, realizing the changes in the shape of wars, a base was adapted to become the main training facility for soldiers in anti-terror actions. Underground warfare, tactical breaching, and robotics are just a few of the specializations that the Lotar Counter-Terror School teaches IDF soldiers. The instructors responsible for training IDF units in counter-terrorism are combat soldiers who train others and, if needed, take part in operational activities. The school is divided into different sections according to specialization.

The other body in the forefront of anti-terror training is the special operation unit of the border police (YAMAM). This unit is now considered one of the most advanced anti-terror units in the world. The training and simulation tools they use are highly classified, but we were given an opportunity to learn how the border police train in anti-terror operations.

In recent months a special training site has been built in the heart of the Judean Desert, near Ma'aleh Michmash, northeast of Jerusalem. The site looks like a Hollywood set – huge greenhouses, exact copies of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, of a street leading from the Old City of Jerusalem, and part of the Sharona restaurants and store center in Tel Aviv. All these places saw terror attacks in which Israelis were killed.

"The idea was to bring the areas to the trainees at the training facility," said Commander Ram Khio, chief commanding officer of this unique training facility. The training area was established with meticulous attention, the smallest details, to the level of authentic smells and muezzin voices playing in the background. "A policeman who enters the street here, as soon as he goes out into the field, will already feel that he was there; it will not be his initial experience wandering around the alley," Commander Khio explained. "We built exact sites in the Old City of Jerusalem where we encountered many terror attacks. The sites were built with an effort to create an exact duplicate. "The fighter that trains in this facility feels that he already knows the place when he is sent for duty in all these clash points." He added that the readiness of the fighters has increased dramatically since the special training facility has been operational.

In addition to launching rockets into Israel, terror organizations in Gaza have carried out a major plan of digging tunnels that enable armed terrorists to enter Israel and perform attacks on soldiers and civilians. To reduce gaps in the handling of the growing threat via tunnels, the IDF expanded the underground training facilities in all the commands. Today, almost all brigade training bases and commands have infrastructure for underground training.

However, the infrastructure and facilities have not yet reached a satisfactory level and in the coming year tens of millions of shekels will be invested in setting up facilities that will attempt to provide a training experience as close as possible to reality. The IDF has also acquired weapons that will help to neutralize tunnel intrusions more easily and quickly, without the need to wait for professional forces. Infantry forces have developed drills for handling subterranean compounds, as have artillery forces.

The staff of the Lotar anti-terror academy are also one of the IDF's most effective anti-terror units. In an interview with MS&T, Captain O, in charge of training in the academy, said that the instruction is based on field training and simulation. "First, we teach the fighter how to react to sudden-developing scenarios that are typical to terror attacks. A good example is to train the fighter how to use his handgun when he is under attack. In that instance, the body shrinks, and we teach the fighter how to take advantage of that effect and still hit the enemy in the first round."

Captain O. added that the academy uses a variety of simulators but only after the trainee acts accordingly to sudden enemy action in the field: "Then we bring him to a simulator where he can use the almost-instinctive actions he acquired in the field training."

The border police simulation site. Image credit: Israeli Police.
The border police simulation site. Image credit: Israeli Police.

Elbit’s Combatant-Wearable Training

Elbit Systems is one of Israel's main defense companies. At a company facility I visited, the section developing anti-terror simulators is the "super dream" of every gamer in the world – large halls filled with all kinds of simulators that can create any combat scenario, using the Live Combat Training System (LCTS).

According to Tal Cohen, senior director of Elbit land simulators, the LCTS provides a comprehensive solution for joint tactical force-on-force live training. The system enables efficient training in various terrains – including urban areas – without the need for any on-site installation. The fully integrated training system combines laser suites for dismounted infantry and armored vehicles, independent broadband communication and control center capabilities.

One of the more intriguing components is the Soldier’s Vest Kit, installed on a special combat vest with advanced sensors and communications systems. The headband is placed on the soldier’s protection helmet. The other parts of the system are a player unit computer, eye-safe laser emitter for all weapon types, user terminal interface, UHF Communication module, Wi-Fi 2.4GHz, GPS module, laser sensors, personal audio and other supporting parts.

Cohen described: "The training combatant moves in the area and suddenly a terrorist throws a hand grenade. The soldiers within the hit range know that they have been injured and the others know exactly from what direction the grenade was thrown."

A brief demonstration proved the realistic level the system creates with sounds and flashes of light – one level beneath real fighting, in my estimation, enabling the aim of "train as you fight."

"The system uses noise and vibrations as substitutes for blank training rounds. These rounds are expensive and when you have to train on a public facility, for example a school taken over by terrorists who hold hostages, the training rounds are out of the game, in spite of their safety," Cohen said.

The impressive debriefing system reveals how the soldiers acted. "At the end of the drill the commanders can follow every action of an individual soldier to see mistakes and improve performance," explained Cohen.

IAI's RoBattle - an unmanned, heavy-duty, highly maneuverable combat and support robotic system. Image credit: IAI.
IAI's RoBattle - an unmanned, heavy-duty, highly maneuverable combat and support robotic system. Image credit: IAI.

IAI RoBattle Joins Ground Forces

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a leading developer and manufacturer of unmanned air systems, is now developing a family of ground robotic systems. The need for ground robotics came initially from the IDF, but many armed forces around the world are now understanding the potential in these robots that can perform many missions with precision and most important, without risking lives.

Recently IAI unveiled the RoBattle – an unmanned, heavy-duty, highly maneuverable combat and support robotic system. The system is designed to be integrated with tactical forces in mobile, dismounted operations and support a wide range of missions including intelligence, surveillance and armed reconnaissance, convoy protection, decoy, and ambush and attack.

RoBattle is equipped with a modular kit comprised of vehicle control, navigation, sensors and mission payloads. The system can be operated autonomously and configured with wheels or tracks to address relevant operational needs. Operators can equip RoBattle with different payloads including manipulator arms, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors and radars, and remotely controlled weapons.

"With the modular robotic kit methodology, designed to meet specific customer requirements, RoBattle is one of the most advanced combat maneuvering ground robotics in the market." said Meir Shabtai, Deputy General Manager of ground robotics systems for IAI’s LAHAV Division. "The RoBattle presents advanced technologies and capabilities that can close the operational gaps in future battlefield challenges.”

The RoBattle has a built-in simulation capability that enables its operator to create scenarios that the robotic vehicle has to cope with in a joint operation with infantry units. Shabtai said, "We have sensors on the heavy platform and they show us in real time how it behaves under different conditions. To prove the total capability of such a big heavy robot, armed with different weapon systems, we need to simulate different scenarios and see how this unmanned heavy vehicle acts. This allows us to bring such a robot to a fighting area after it has proven its capability to act against the enemy." 

Originally published in Issue 5, 2018 of MS&T Magazine.