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What Makes a Tactical ISR System used for Surveillance & Protection, Reliable & Effective?
Jim Jenkins - Applied Technology Institute Jim Jenkins - Applied Technology Institute
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Annapolis, MD
Friday, November 10, 2023


The sudden and brutal attack on Israel by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas on October 7 took Israel and most of the world by surprise. After all, it had only been 2 years since the arrival of the sophisticated $1.2 B defensive “Iron Wall”, the term used when completed 7 December 2021 by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which completely separates Israel from the Gaza Strip throughout their shared 40-mile border. The Iron Wall extends above and below ground, as well as into the Mediterranean Sea; and with Israel’s consolidated impressive and proven technologies, the wall was designed to deny and impede hostile incursions from the Gaza side of the wall. Embedded within the Iron Wall and observation towers are: sensors to detect underground and above ground encroachment and/or intrusions by those from Gaza as well as automated/remote defense weaponry. The wall itself embeds a laser-based sensor that can detect and report exact location intrusion(s) along its entire span– a technology Future Fibre Technologies (FFT) demonstrated to the author during design of a tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (T-ISR) system to persistently protect highly-critical areas in the US.

Designing an effective T-ISR system for the Israel-Gaza border focused on persistent surveillance, which is tasked to determine if an object (personnel, vehicles, etc.) has entered into a pre-defined restricted area. If such incursions are detected, the T-ISR system performs object identification, target lethality assessment, generates a track timeline (per target with location, direction, & timestamp), processes data to be disseminated to command centers and other sensors (data cross-correlation), and finally generates & broadcasts alerts as required. T-ISR systems are implemented differently based upon system requirements, mission resources, and characteristics associated with the area/volume of interest (AOI/VOI) to be observed and protected. For the Iron Wall, the defense systems were more or less in “plain sight” to Hamas 2 years. Whereas Israeli designers and defenders had to consider all possible means of attack, Hamas need only to concentrate on identifying the wall’s weak links and develop a strategy to leverage using these weaknesses.

We saw this methodology to evaluate “wall” weaknesses by an attacker over time with Michael Creighton’s fictional raptors (Jurassic Park) that constantly tested their electrified fences. This systematic evaluation of defense “weak points” has occurred repeatedly in history: from Genghis Khan’s incursions beyond the great China Wall to the WWII German unexpected and rapid invasion of Belgium by the Wehrmacht by side-stepping the 280-mile Maginot Line France built in the 1930s (a mix of fortresses, underground bunkers, minefields, and gun batteries). Israel too has first-hand experience of unexpected breaches. In 1969, Israel built the Bar Lev line along the entire Suez Canal. Israeli planners estimated it would take a minimum of 24 hours for Egyptian forces to breach this fortified line.  To the Israelis’’ surprise, during the early stages of the 1973 Yom Kippur War Egypt breached the Bar Lev line in less than two hours.

Referring to the Oct 7th attack, a timeline as to the strategy Hamas employed is forming.  The initial assault stage aimed to disrupt surveillance and communications through use of commercial drones that dropped munitions onto communications towers and remote-controlled machine gun turrets. Simultaneously, sniper fire was used against outposts and cameras to negate their effectiveness. As Bergman-Kingsley (New York Times) reported, IDF border soldiers were denied cellular connectivity; and alarm signals were not transmitted, received, or distributed. In coordination with the ground attacks, Hamas provided cover for their ground and airborne terrorists through an intense barrage of rockets (>3000) against Israel in a 20-minute window. Finally, it has been reported that Hamas had knowledge that three IDF battalions at the Gaza border were redeployed to the West Bank on the eve of the Simchat Torah holiday.

As pieces of what occurred on October 7th are revealed, perhaps questions addressing fundamental issues regarding the failure of the Iron Wall will be answered, as: (1) Why didn’t the long-range sensors (>1 miles) or high-resolution cameras pick-up movement sooner, to afford more time for a critical IDF response? (2) How did commercial-size front loaders (“bulldozers”) get to the wall without being detected prior to their breach? (3) Where was the 24/7 overwatch afforded by the IDF ISR-enabled drones that provided persistent overwatch of surveillance areas? (4) How did Hamas successfully jam all critical wall defense command and data communications? (5) Finally, how did Hamas gain so much actionable information on Iron Wall weaknesses to conduct such an overwhelming breach?

There are numerous avenues to designing persistent surveillance systems for tactical action. An approach used is through integration of persistent low-cost, low-power ISR sensors operating autonomously and tiered with sophisticated sensors and fault-tolerant data exfiltration and routing. In considering design and implementation of a T-ISR system, decision-makers at each life-cycle phase must consider at the top level: (1) review/revision of effective and achievable requirements (critical assumptions about opponent and operating characteristics),  (2) evaluation of effectiveness & limitations for the applicable sensor and communication technologies, (3) technical and resource limitations, (4) understanding and appropriate application of system performance equations, and (5) implementation of end-to-end system engineering approaches.

These, and several related topics, are presented by ATI’s February 2024 course entitled, Embedding Wireless Sensor Networking (WSN) in Tactical Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (T-ISR). This course is of significant value to those working tactical ISR, WSN systems, Internet of (Battle) Things (IoT, IoBT), ad hoc sensing nets, remote sensing, and solving tactical ISR (T-ISR) mission requirements. To learn more about this course, and to register to attend, you can go here, or to www.aticourses.com for a full listing of other courses.

— TD Cole 11/7/2023

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Name: Jim Jenkins
Title: President
Group: Applied Technology Institute
Dateline: Annapolis, MD United States
Direct Phone: 410-956-8805
Main Phone: 410-956-8805
Cell Phone: 410-956-8805
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