Lt. Col. Tom Carlisle, US Army Ret., the senior director for Army solutions at Elbit Systems of America, discusses the company’s Iron Vision real-time, ground-vehicle situational awareness system with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s 2019 Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Ala., where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in sunny Huntsville, Alabama for the Association of the United States Army’s annual Global Force Symposium, the number one winter meeting of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to meet with industry, thought leaders, media and more to talk about the service’s strategy, budgets and technology. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, and we’re out here in the outside exhibition area to talk to Tom Carlisle, Retired United States Army lieutenant colonel. He’s the Senior Business Development Director on the Army Team at Elbit Systems of America.
Tom a beautiful day to be outside and be near a Bradley. How much better than this does it get?
Tom Carlisle: Vago, welcome to Huntsville, Alabama.
One of the things I’d like to just tell you about this system, and thanks for coming to see it, is the technology that we have on this vehicle.
Mr. Muradian: It’s really amazing because Raanan Horowitz, the CEO of the company, and I have talked about how the company was going to adapt the F-35 technology, or the technology and situational awareness technology from the F-35 into the ground vehicle segment, so that’s why it’s so exciting to see this vehicle.
Mr. Carlisle: So the capabilities that we have on the F-35 and many other platforms for that matter, we’re actually taking it and putting it into a ground application.
So what’s important about this is, I think there’s like three really important take-aways. Number one, it provides real-time situational awareness for the soldiers that are inside our combat vehicle platforms, and one of the by products of that is safety and survivability.
The other part of the technology that we’re showing here is it allows for real time exterior of the vehicle situational awareness, both from a threat perspective, from an environmental perspective, and you are able to look at all of the different things that are going around from the vehicle, both inside the platform, inside of the turret, and inside the crew compartment. So everybody with this situational awareness knows what’s going on outside, which is fantastic.
Mr. Muradian: And it’s called the Iron Vision System. And I remember many years ago when you would visit with the Israel Army, there was that big shift that happened to hey, let’s get everybody under cover, let’s get them in the vehicle, let’s give them the situational awareness, because they’re most vulnerable when they’re out of the hatch, basically.
So talk to us a little bit about how some of this information is displayed internally. We can’t, for classification and competition reasons go in the vehicle and shoot in there, but talk to us a little bit about how the user interface, that’s always critical for soldiers when they’re in a vehicle, talk to us about how folks, where are the sensors, where are they positioned, and how you’re interfacing with the crew to try to make that as seamless an experience as possible.
Mr. Carlisle: One of the things I’d like to tell you first is for really about the last 240 years the American soldier has had to make contact with the enemy first. So he has had to expose himself and then he becomes vulnerable to enemy contact.
With this system we’re able to take a proactive role and identify a threat before we have to react, which enables lots of things. One is the ability to put resources onto a target, the ability to make decisions and get into the enemy’s decision cycle as opposed to us having to react to the enemy.
So how we do all of this is we have an array of cameras on this vehicle that are real-time stitched images with literally zero latency. So from a photon hitting our sensor to the photon hitting your eye, it’s literally quicker than the snap of a finger. And so it’s projected on a helmet mounted visor, much like our F-35 and our other aircraft applications, but one of the things we’re doing is, the Army is going in a direction with helmet mounted displays for all of the soldiers. So now we’re in the process of taking our ability to take this information and putting on a projection platform, a helmet-mounted display, so that all soldiers can have the ability to capitalize on the situational awareness.
Again this system, there’s really just three fundamentals to it. There is an external camera that is stitched together in a 360 array, it comes into a processor. Some of our very unique algorithms takes that energy and then we can convert it literally real time and then it’s projected on a helmet mounted display.
So the technology that we have in our past performance on all of our aircraft is really what makes this so special.
Mr. Muradian: And you guys also have an unmanned aerial vehicle which is very very ingenious to have that operating off of a vehicle on the move because you’re always trying to get that little bit of extra sight. Obviously there are going to be many layers, many Army layers as well as Air Force, and even Navy and Marine Corps layers that can feed into your overall battle picture, but sometimes you need that vehicle to tell you what’s on the other side of that berm. Tell us how you guys have that integrated in the vehicle.
Mr. Carlisle: So what’s exciting about this is the future requirements of many of the things in the U.S. Army requires unmanned aircraft, small UAS’s, quad copter type devices to be tethered, not literally, but tethered either through an ultra-high speed wideband, through WiFi, through Bluetooth. But what we are doing here on this platform is we have a UAS that is tied to this vehicle that can go up into the air while the vehicle is either stationary or moving. Our UAS can follow, it can lead, it can go to the left or the right, and through our helmet mounted display we can control the digital input or the electro-optic cameras on the UAS and I can project that into my vehicle. So while being protected I can go up into the air many hundreds of feet. I can look and provide another level of 360 degree awareness.
So when you really think about it, the ability to now be the person being proactive instead of reacting to enemy contact is really now in place with the use of the UAS and real-time tethering, again through multiple systems that can be projected onto the soldier’s face.
Mr. Muradian: And you can share that with your squadron and higher echelon.
Mr. Carlisle: The information that comes into our situational awareness through Iron Vision can be passed through the battle management systems. We can pass it to wingmen, we can pass it to any echelon in our command. So anything I can see, you can see, which then further makes everything that we see distributed much more informative to the entire formation.
Mr. Muradian: No Buck Rogers. Talk to us about the programmatics of this, right? It’s a great idea, but a lot of great ideas have been brought to the United States Army and it doesn’t have resources or there’s no program of record for it. I understand that the cross-functional teams are looking at a whole bunch of technology like this. Talk to us about the program line that gets assigned to this, or are we still at that early stage of getting that awareness up there so that the Army has enough information to make a decision.
Mr. Carlisle: It’s a great question. The first thing I would tell you is this system is going to be fielded overseas within the next 18 months. So the technology readiness for this system has already been proven and it’s ready to be fielded operationally overseas. Within the U.S. and the U.S. future, this system, situational awareness and 360 SA is already part of funded requirements on our new platforms. So this requirement exists, it’s funded, it has a requirement, and it really has all of the stakeholders in the Army to endorse this particular type of technology.
Mr. Muradian: Retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Tom Carlisle. Tom, absolute pleasure. Business Development Director on the Army team at Elbit Systems of America. Thanks very much. Best of luck.
It’s great seeing the system, having heard so much about it. So I wish you the best of luck, and it’s always great to be in the shadow of a Bradley.
Mr. Carlisle: I think you’re seeing actually the future of how our soldiers are going to fight. And so if nothing else, the ability to fight in a protected environment is the thing I want you to take away. It is just fantastic, and I’m so happy to be part of it.
Mr. Muradian: Thank you, sir. Best of luck.
Mr. Carlisle: Same to you. Thanks a lot.