An Asio Orion navigation system is in use with the IDF. (Asio)

JERUSALEM — Israeli soldiers who went to war in Gaza after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack carried with them the usual equipment, from rifles to radios, that the infantry has carried for decades. But into these new urban battles many also brought a newer, high-tech device: a 3D navigation tool that’s seeing its largest test yet in the sprawling conflict.

The device, called the Orion and made by Israeli firm Asio, is designed to allow soldiers to wayfind, to “see” friendly units and to maneuver in an imagery-fed 3D visualized environment in real time – what the IDF in March compared to a military version of the popular Waze traffic app.

Asio CEO David Harel told Breaking Defense that for the IDF’s current operation against Hamas in Gaza, dubbed Iron Swords, thousands of Orion devices have been deployed and that they have made “a real revolution in the way ground forces maneuvered and planned and executed operations.” Harel claimed an IDF commander told him that “except the rifle, [Orion] is the most common system on the battlefield.”

While the system has been in use with the IDF for six years now, the current Gaza conflict marks its first entry into major, complex ground combat operations.

“This is the first large-scale war” for the system, Harel said. “It demonstrated how important and effective the Orion is for maneuvering forces, and we get feedback from all over.”

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The concept is to provide soldiers with updated maps in the palm of their hand through the device. The maps can be knitted together with recent aerial photos and other digital technology to provide a lifelike 3D visualization. It works on or off gird, the CEO said, and enables real-time navigation, situational awareness and “calculating course of action and planning and communications between forces.” It also has augmented reality to overlay digital information on the real world.

Israeli soldiers consult the Asio-made Orion 3D navigation app. (IDF)

During his discussion with Breaking Defense, Harel demonstrated how the system could be used to plan an attack on a mock enemy in a village setting. Using the device, forces could, for instance, analyze the terrain for details that might not be perceptible via binoculars before an attack in unfamiliar places, he said. A slight rise in the landscape — little noticed by a human eye but readily seen on the device — could mean soldiers can approach a building with cover, using the maps and functions reveal the subtle advantage. Soldiers can also use Orion to plot where enemy forces, such as snipers or RPG teams, are and to analyze how best to take an objective.

Harel said it’s an effective tool in a complex environment such as Gaza, where terrain also changes as troops move in and out of urban areas.

More broadly, the tech is part of the IDF’s push to modernize its forces for a new, digitized era of warfare.

“Today soldiers in the battlefield are digital soldiers, they have smartphones, so this is the way we build the system,” Harel said.

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Like many companies in Israel that draw from real-world combat experience, Asio was established by IDF commanders with an engineering background. Harel said the founders sought to bring firsthand experience to helping dismounted infantry.

“This is done by outfitting them with state-of-the-art tech to secure mission planning and execution and debriefing,” he said.

Harel said that many of the company’s employees were called up for reserve duty in October in the aftermath of the Hamas attack. In uniform, they encountered the product they had developed.