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A new communications technology that delivers video to a receiver one-fifth the size of normal is allowing Israeli troops to see what enemies may be lurking just over the next hill or around the next corner.

The V-Rambo system, which was formally unveiled last Wednesday at a conference in Tel Aviv, is a three-inch, wristwatch-sized LCD screen that enables ground troops and pilots to view real-time video images taken by unmanned planes.

Itzhak Beni, CEO of the Israeli company Elisra Group that makes the product, says V-Rambo gives soldiers an aerial view of combat areas, which is particularly important in a dense urban landscape where military forces may not have a clear line of sight in combat zones.

The Israelis, like military forces from other countries, have been collecting video from unmanned vehicles for two decades – but typically that information was sent to one central location where it was displayed on larger receivers before it could be disseminated to ground troops or pilots who could then use that data.

The concern with this “hub and spoke system” is the lag time in relaying information from central command to the troops, says Jason D. Rabbino, vice president of global consultancy and business development for Jane’s Strategic Advisory Services, which advises corporate clients and military organizations on defense issues.

Until recently, it was not feasible to send information direct to the individual soldiers or units because the technology needed wasn’t rugged enough for military use, and was too costly.  Also, there was a risk that by sending disparate feeds collected by different reconnaissance vehicles directly to the troops, soldiers in harm’s way would be saddled with information overload

Now the technology is hardened and cheap enough – on the order of $50,000 or less for a full system that would include a receiver, transmitter, battery – and advances in technology have led to the increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles that are designated for specific fighting groups, which cuts down on the chance of such overload while giving units a better view of their theater, Rabbino says.

Being able to marry aerial surveillance to technology which can convey pictures and global positioning location to the front lines directly – which has only recently become feasible – significantly improves an army’s chances for success, says Dr. Roger McCarthy, chairman of Exponent Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based consulting firm that often works on military projects.

“It’s the worst of all possible worlds for the opposition,” McCarthy says. “In a digital battlefield, once your position is known with accuracy, you’re dead.”

With the V-Rambo, information goes directly to the men and women in the field, reducing reaction time in some cases from 10 minutes to a few seconds, according to Beni.

“Instead of coordinating by voice with a central command, soldiers can see behind the hill and around the corner,” says Beni.

Reducing the size of the receiver – and ultimately the transmitter – down to the size of a wristwatch was the major challenge in developing the technology, says Beni.

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