Israeli military confronts new foe: Y2K
March 31, 1999
IN THE JUDEAN DESERT (CNN) -- The Israeli military is among the most high-tech in the world, and its modern weaponry and communications abilities help it maintain its military superiority in the volatile Middle East.
Field commanders keep track of their troops -- and the enemy's -- with the help of computer-driven global positioning satellites (GPS). Tank commanders rely on laptop computers to guide them through the chaos of battle. Computer systems position the air force's advanced fighter planes.
All of this lends urgency to the Israeli Defense Forces' efforts to make sure that those systems aren't put out of commission by a Y2K-type computer bug.
"The Israeli army is a very, very high-tech army, so the problem is there and we have to deal with it," said Lt. Col. Dror Margalite. "If we weren't so high-tech, I believe the problem would be a minor problem."
The Israeli defense forces have been wrestling with the Y2K problem since 1994, and they don't underestimate it. Israeli officers say privately that they are not sure wars can be fought today without the high-tech tools the military has come to depend on.
The problem arises because many older computer systems record dates using only the last two digits of the year. If left uncorrected, such systems could treat the year 2000 as the year 1900, generating errors or system crashes on January 1.
Military experts say that some computer systems could crash as early as this summer, when thousands of lines of computer code must be replaced in airplanes, missiles and tanks to prevent a GPS system breakdown. Such a breakdown could occur as early as mid-August.
Privately there is even more uncertainty, because despite massive computer testing, no one is sure when the problem will hit.
"We must check it on 9 September '99," said Col. Miri Kadmiel, the head of the IDF's computer section. "It's ... 9/9/99, so it's in some programs as the end of the world."
Whatever Israel's level of preparedness, it appears to be far ahead of its neighbors. A U.N. official said earlier this year that few of the Middle East's Arab states had thought about the problem, let alone drawn up plans to avoid it.
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.
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