Urban Surveillance Still Falling Short, Say Army Commanders
SAN DIEGO — Army commanders need more sophisticated aerial surveillance sensors to give them a wider, more detailed view of the complex urban battlefield, officials said.
“We face an incredible problem, a conundrum in intelligence today … We are no longer looking for a needle in a haystack … we are looking for a needle in a stack of six million needles,” said Maj. Gen. John Custer, commander of the Army Intelligence Center, Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
But beyond just finding individual terrorist suspects, commanders want to use next-generation intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, to track patterns and behaviors over the entire cityscape that will lead them back to the larger terrorist network.
“You have to disable the network,” said Master Sgt. Kevin Purdy, with electronic warfare research and development testing at Fort Huachuca. “Bomb planters are a dime a dozen, but the network is the bigger problem,” he said at a Technology Training Corp. unmanned systems conference.
“Over the last four years, we killed off all the dumb guys. There are no dumb guys left,” Custer said at the conference. But smart ones remain, and the Army needs better ways to find them, he noted.
The Army introduced a concept called “tactical persistent surveillance,” Custer said, which involves acquiring a larger view of the entire scene of action.
The Army has relied for years on images provided by large drones such as the Global Hawk and Predator, but those only give a “soda straw” view of the battlefield.
Custer said the service is looking to get wide area surveillance and persistent, full-motion video coupled with electro-optical and radar technologies to provide more precise information. The military currently has a limited wide-area surveillance capability that only provides “pockets” of information.
The Army also wants sensors that can “tip and cue,” meaning they can detect areas of interest and tell another sensor to stare at that spot. This would give commanders a more comprehensive view of the battlefield, said Custer.
Having the ability to observe larger areas could provide more clues about enemy behaviors and patterns that can lead to important discoveries, he said.
“If a couple of vehicles went to a couple of fields in a couple of days, there’s a [weapons] cache there,” he said.
Purdy said advances in persistent surveillance could also help soldiers spot activity that is difficult to trace, such as bomb planting. If a soldier can place a camera over an entire road, for example, he could detect disruptions anywhere on the road that might signal a newly laid bomb.
Commanders now understand that if soldiers track activity rather than focus on killing the bomb planter, it may lead them back to the source of the bomb. “Sometimes you get more information from observing a target,” Purdy says.
Custer said that the concept of tactical persistent surveillance also requires merging multiple intelligence sources. All sensors need to be networked and commanders need immediate access to the most critical information, such as human and signals intelligence.
SIGINT is important because of the enemy’s use of a wide range of commercial communications systems, including cell phones and land-line phones. “The one guy who is using a cell phone uses five, eight, nine cell phones in a day, changes 15 SIM (subscriber identity module) cards and looks like every other guy,” Custer said.
William Toti, a retired Navy captain and now deputy to the vice president of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Raytheon, said that the Army wants to fuse multiple sources of information into one system. To achieve that goal will require new computer technology, Toti said. Ten years ago, the military didn’t have advanced processing capability, but now the technology has advanced so far that it can provide “near real-time” information.
The fused intelligence also needs to be funneled down to the soldiers to give them situational awareness, Custer said.
Right now, “information is not getting to the war fighter,” said K.D. Boyer, future operations test manager with the joint digital integration for combat engagement program, or JDICE. The information is going back to the base and then going to Washington, he told National Defense.
Toti said the Army is looking to develop a PDA-type display unit for soldiers that can give them images or full motion video. Such systems will require better connectivity and more bandwidth capacity than is currently available, he said.
Army intelligence officials also want to be able to catalogue and archive information obtained from sensors so that it can be rapidly called up. If an improvised explosive device blows up on a corner, commanders want the ability to search and retrieve data from that corner to study the activity that led up to that day, Toti said.
Achieving these goals will take advances in technology, but it will also require more intelligence analysts, Custer pointed out. Right now, there are not enough analysts to study the vast amount of information gathered by sensors.
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