Interview by Curtis Hand
While the coffee is brewing in a machine for someone’s cup somewhere, Maritime Security & Defence (MSD) magazine had a rare opportunity to catch up with and interview Nir-Or‘s CEO, BGen (Ret.) Roy Riftin. BTW – the General will be presenting at DEFEA – Defence Exhibition Athens, taking place from 13-15 July 2021 at which land, sea, air and homeland security defence systems are showcased. The Maritime Security & Defencce team wish Roy, Nir-Or (a subsidiary of Imco Industries Ltd.) and DEFEA well and much success…
First, just a little background…UNCTAD in 2020 reported that maritime transport accounts for more than 80% of international trade. While a staggering amount of global commercial activity, the world recently witnessed what happens when sea routes are disrupted, as evidenced by the stranding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal that blocked cargo passage from 23-29 March 2021.
In recent decades, the leading security challenges at sea are in green waters and littoral zones, whereas they were previously confined to blue waters, requiring each country to protect its strategic assets and security in its economic waters and shoreline wherer legal and illegal activities constantly flow around the clock.
According to Roy Riftin (Riftin): “With the numerous numbers of vessels operating in the maritime arena in any given time, a country’s maritime security force needs to (and should!) be able to identify and incriminate the suspicious vessels amongst hundreds of ordinary and legitimate ones, and do so quickly and effectively.” He attributes this to why Nir-Or’s Situational Awareness Video System (SAVS), with its AI capabilities, is uniquely fundamental to better enabling effective maritime patrol while ensuring that commercial and military vessels and crews are safe.
Accordingly, continuous 360° situational awareness with ATR (automatic target recognition) capabilities for land and marine vehicles, uniquely offering a “First to identify, first to act” ability within the line-of-sight and beyond, to achieve lethality and / or survivability.
MSD: When was SAVS first developed – was it in response to any particular event or chain of events?
Riftin: Nir-Or’s SAVS is a result of a few years of development of a video system for the future infantry armored vehicle. We started by developing the hardware, meaning only the components of the system. In the second half of 2020, after we have explored what is required to be more effective in the operational world and what the armies are looking for, we arrived at a conclusion that combining the advanced system units we designed with AI capability – bringing the “brain” into the hardware – will allow us to offer the best solution that will provide continuous 360° situational awareness for land and marine vehicles.
We analyzed the leading operational concept in modern warfare, emphasizing lethality and survivability, and modified a suitable technical concept to be a solution to the known challenges.
Developing an advanced AI capability takes a lot of knowledge and time, so we decided to collaborate with business partners in the AI scene and created a joint venture resulting with the SAVS.
Nir-Or’s SAVS, which is fielded today, is an extremely sophisticated multi-feature system unit with unique capabilities. It is an advanced tactical dominance solution integrating 360 vision situational awareness systems.
MSD: Why is the SAVS necessary?
Riftin: The SAVS is the ideal solution for the current challenges in the battlefield as we understand them today worldwide. It is the answer to a generic challenge that is part of the tactical level operational requirements.
The battlefield has changed: confrontation is short and lethal due to the effectiveness of the weapon used in vast amounts. The one who identifies first can act first, because the data and communications collected by the most advanced systems gives an incomparable advantage to its combat unit.
Second, we all want to preserve human life – and complete the mission with minimum loss of soldiers.
Last – but, not least, we want to operate the combat systems mounted on armored vehicles with minimum crew members – so that armies can be small and smart.
The idea behind the SAVS is adapting the knowledge and the experience we as a society have today in the civilian world – to the battlefield. Citizens worldwide use applications daily as a way of life – and the SAVS duplicates it and does the same on the battlefield: it uses applications in ruggedized displays to operate weapon systems, surveillance systems, and communications systems. The information streams amazingly fast with huge amounts of information thanks to the design we came up with, and on top of that we incorporated a powerful processing unit. In some ways, operating the system feels remarkably like playing the very known video game – Fortnite.
MSD: OK – I have a teenager and get that! – and, I presume the Fortnite dances are optional. So…
What distinguishes the SAVS from similar EO and situational awareness solutions?
Riftin: Some capabilities are essential to make the system qualified to be highly effective. One of them is having exceptionally low latency, so that the data on the displays will be in real-time. If the data is not in real-time, the response will always be late and will not be relevant to deal with the threats in line of sight and on time. To overcome this very challenging requirement, we offer an advanced system developed during many years of R&D.
In terms of architecture, the combination between the hardware and AI capabilities (software) in our system is divided between the camera clusters and the video server. It is a unique approach that enables the system to process a lot of data and information in a noticeably short time. The whole idea is that in the end, the SAVS will support the commander and the crew with decision-making while they are doing their mission.
We have a well-planned roadmap for the SAVS’ potential growth, so in some ways, it is like Tesla – the hardware is the basic capability, but the brain inside will keep developing and growing through the years, bringing more and more capabilities as time will go by.
At this stage, the AI is mainly for ATR: identifying, recognizing, and incriminating. In the future, we will see it replacing the crew in unmanned platforms, conducting independent-based machine learning missions.
MSD: How does AI within the SAVS system function and provide strategic and tactical advantages at sea?
Riftin: First, it provides the ability to identify any threats in a short time and enables the crew to react to the threat in relevant time.
Using regular EO systems or ELINT radars at sea can help identify an object in the ship’s line of sight. However, identifying is not enough – as you cannot know if each detected object is a real threat, or maybe just a fishing boat. And this is the unique advantage of the SAVS – through identifying, recognizing, and also incriminating, all in a very short time, it enhances the force’s situational awareness and assists in decision making.
Using regular EO or ELINT equipment without decision-making abilities will not provide the same result and will affect the lethality and survivability of the unit.
MSD: What makes the SAVS ideal for maritime patrols and security operations?
Riftin: On any battlefield, we differentiate between what is in line of sight (LOS) and what is non-line of sight (NLOS). At sea, using sensors of all sorts on the platform itself can give you the ability to identify and recognize threats in your LOS.
Nir-Or’s SAVS has the ability to adapt a streaming video and other data not only from sensors that are on the platform, but also from drones and UAVs that are flown from the platform. The connectivity is part of the package, and we refer to it as a portable “hot spot”. Therefore, using the SAVS gives you the ability to have adapted information and allows you to be relevant in the NLOS arena as well.
It is also a learning machine, so that it keeps getting better and better, adapting itself to each user’s unique needs and features.
MSD: So, then, who is the operator of the system – where does it sit on a ship?
Riftin: The operator of the system is first of all the ship commander, as he is the one who has to decide what to do and how to act – according to the recommendations from the system. We also have the 1 or 2 crew members, who are in charge of operating the system – both the sensors and the weapon system. Usually, the system is located on the deck of the ship.
MSD: Right, then how much training is required to effectively use it?
Riftin: Today, soldiers learn amazingly fast everything that has to do with applications – because this is a part of their life, they use smartphones since childhood. Therefore, all our displays are using applications that are similar to the applications in the civil world – the ones that the soldiers\sailors are well familiar with. This way, there should not be much difference between ordering a taxi with the “Get Taxi” app or doing a similar action when checking which sensor is relevant to the specific threat in the 360 degrees around the ship.
MSD: How does the use of camera clusters improve situational awareness instead of confusing it?
Riftin: Camera clusters are only a means, as they put together a few cameras with different utilizations (day/night, fusion, etc.) to provide 360 degrees capability while positioned on the platform. There are usually 4 to 6 clusters on a platform – instead of many different cameras all over the place.
As many electrical components are needed to make the system work, the idea behind camera clusters is to concentrate all the elements in a small number of units. In Nir-Or’s camera clusters, we also have an embedded AI capability – which is another part of the uniqueness of our system.
MSD: Where is the SAVS currently in use and/or under consideration?
Riftin: The SAVS is currently under consideration in several countries – just before purchase order. We also plan to demonstrate it in the coming months to several end-users.
MSD: Thank you!
Note: Nir-Or, is a subsidiary of IMCO Industries Ltd. (Tel Aviv Stock Exchange TASE: IMCO) and designs, develops, manufactures, and integrates innovative electronic systems and products for a vast range of military applications on land, in the air, and at sea.