As the services face a growing demand for new battlefield technologies, equipment “quick fixes” often have circumvented the formal acquisition process.
One such item, a video receiver called ROVER — remotely operated video by extended range — which plugs into a laptop and allows for multiple sensor feeds, has expanded rapidly across all services, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, military deputy at the office of the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition.
“When a division gets ready to go over to Iraq, they say, ‘we need ROVERs’ and they just go get them,” said Hoffman, who compared the process to another “quick fix” — CB radios that parents have shipped to troops so their squads can communicate.
Marines installed transmitters in the targeting pods that are mounted under fighter jet wings to allow video to be shared with ROVER-equipped troops. Cameras mounted on aircraft collect images and send them as full-motion streaming video to ground forces. The real-time imagery provides tactical air controllers on the ground an aerial view of what is happening in an area before and after they call in close air support. The first time the receiver was used, fighters destroyed the target, Hoffman said at a conference sponsored by Defense News Media Group.
“It’s a great thing, but it’s on its own,” with no funding stream, said Hoffman. The equipment ought to be part of a program so that it can be maintained, serviced and sustained. Moreover, being part of a program would ensure other possible problems, such as communications jamming and frequency interference with other systems, could be avoided.
Hoffman said trying to make the process more controlled through a program would ensure that the equipment finds it way to all the war fighters’ hands.
According to an Air Force statement, ROVER was also used in search-and-rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Perched on a New Orleans hotel roof, cameras captured video images for responders to use in their search for survivors.
These systems prove that the services are making progress in developing and deploying systems that have joint-service application, said Hoffman. “This is the right way to do things.”