3D maps: Airborne ISR pins down key tech

Contributor:  Andrew Elwell
Posted:  11/25/2011  12:00:00 AM EST
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Tags:   ISR

The role of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in airborne operations is rapidly evolving and becoming an increasingly mission-critical component for the armed forces as it looks to improve interoperability and situational awareness.

Speaking to Defence IQ today, Saab’s Michael Olofsson, Director, Sales & Marketing for Rapid 3D Mapping, discussed the company’s mapping technology and how it can be beneficial for military ISR applications.

Rapid 3D Mapping, which is accurate to within 30 cm from 3D data captured at an altitude of 600 m, creates “photo-realistic and accurate geo-referenced 3D maps from data collected from airborne sensors such as aircraft, helicopters, UAV's and even satellites,” Olofsson explained in an email interview. Think Google Maps, expect it’s interactive, explorable in 3-dimensions, and designed with in-built features to aid the military in live operations.

“Our main focus right now is military use … applications are typically simulation and training, situational awareness … mission planning (and) target acquisition”

The technology will have “huge benefits for ISR users” as it gives commanders on the ground and in the air an accurate view and understanding of the landscape before any forces are sent in. In one example of the technology’s capabilities, Olofsson said that snipers can be digitally placed into an environment anywhere in the world and the exact line-of-sight from those coordinates can be calculated. Clearly this data would be invaluable for certain military operations as it allows a mission to be accurately planned while also offering significant risk reduction benefits.

Of course Saab isn’t the only company working on such technologies as the market for military, and indeed civilian, ISR applications is burgeoning despite an austere economic climate. Earlier this week Lockheed Martin unveiled its optionally manned or unmanned vehicle to address border security issues in Europe. At a time when acquisition teams need to be smart about what equipment they procure, dual-use technologies like airborne ISR systems appear to be value-add propositions.

In a press release Lockheed Martin stated that it had “showcased how traditional defence-focused integrated airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities can be quickly adapted to address dynamic border protection as well as maritime search and rescue needs.”

UAV’s continue to prove mission-critical function

The use of mapping in ISR is another clear example of the vital role UAV’s are now playing in military operations as they’re able to collect ISR data in hostile terrains which can then be converted into actionable intelligence for governments and militaries.

In a recent interview with Dr. Earl William Powers, a Research Fellow at the United States Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, the role of UAV’s was discussed in depth. “Almost every nation is going to continue to increase their use of UAV’s,” said Powers.

“We’re going to see a move toward more capable UAS that are going to be stealthier, they’re going to be faster, they’re going to be able to carry a bigger payload, they’re going to have longer time on station so they can be used for both long range strikes and be used for irregular warfare. That’s where the biggest move is going to go in the future,” Powers explained.

While Powers explored the use of UAVs principally in terms of their application in tactical operations, they clearly have enormous potential to aid in the collection and dissemination of ISR data.

Discussing the advancement of UAV technology Powers stated that we’re progressing “not only at an acceptable rate, it’s even ahead of where the military expected it to be.” And he doesn’t just mean the U.S. military: “There are about 70 countries right now working on different kinds of UAS.”

Andrew Elwell Contributor:   Andrew Elwell

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