Nothing But Eyes

I looked at persistent surveillance a while ago whilst on the subject of the RAF but progress marches on and although not strictly UK related it is no less interesting.

Most of us reading this will have heard of the US system called Gorgon Stare and I think we can all appreciate the benefit of persistent surveillance for all spectrums of military operations.

One of the limiting factors with existing systems is that in general, they can only look at one place at a time. Even accepting the wide area radar view being able to cross cue optical sensors from different or the same collector platform we are still suffering from looking through the proverbial soda straw and in general, full motion video is used for the ‘here and now’ rather than piecing together a long term wide area picture. You may have heard of the term ‘patterns of life’ and this is used to describe this wide area medium term view, by understanding how people move (or not), distribution of indicators like crop harvesting and other fiendishly clever analysis a great deal can be ascertained. Although we have used this in the context of COIN type operations where analysing patterns of movement of the civilian population can deliver vital clues about enemy activity, contraband smuggling and IED emplacement it also has utility in more intensive combat operations as well as long as the aerial platforms can remain aloft.

The UK has used this a great deal in Afghanistan, with the Royal Navy ASaC Mk7’s playing a particularly vital role.

Understanding that a local villagers always use a particular route to their fields and being able to determine that they are no longer conforming to their norms might indicate that enemy forces are operating in the area, the presence of IED’s or other suspicious activity. It is a tremendously useful and innovative technique, stitching together various sensors feeds and other intelligence to create a big picture and changes in this picture stick out like a bulldog’s dangly bits.

In response to this need US forces have fielded the Gorgon Stare system.

Gorgon Stare, or to give it its proper name, Wide Area Airborne Surveillance (WAAS) pod is a Sierra Nevada system of five electro-optical still cameras and four infrared cameras for day and night wide-area surveillance. It provides multiple views of the battlefield and is mounted in a couple of pods on the Reaper UAV. Operating in conjunction with the Distributed Common Ground System it stitches together the multiple views into a single composite feed. Displayed as multiple tiles or if needed, single or smaller number of tiles can be composited. Because of the huge data rate it would not be possible to transmit at the full motion video of 25-30 frames per second so instead scales this down to 2 frames per second, which is entirely adequate for its intended use. The initial versions monitor everything in a 4km by 4km square but this will be increased with later versions. Coupled with this wide area view is its ability to provide forensic replays, an IED goes off in a particular area for example and an analyst can simply rewind the image square for that area, picking up the people who laid it, where they came from, how they moved and potentially, where they are now. Automated image analysis tools are also being used to maximise the benefit of all this data and video compression technology based on fourier transfoms is also improving, better compression effectively means more data down a limited bandwidth pipe.

With constant improvement in solid state storage and video compression techniques it could be feasible to provide video storage/caching as part of the observation payload, thus reducing the amount of backhaul bandwidth.

In effect, the aerial platform becomes a large Sky Plus / TIVO box or town centre CCTV system

Commercial SSD storage, 60Gb for example, costs about £80 and weighs less than 250g. That’s about £1.50 and 0.005Kg per gigabyte. H.264/MPEG4 for example, can have embedded XML metadata (location, time date etc), is adaptive, able to change bitrate depending on bandwidth available, able to use cheap single chip encoders and can squeeze a standard digital TV resolution video/audio stream into a very small data stream. Depending on quality settings and other factors it could be about 4-5 Gb per hour of footage. Change from full motion video to CCTV frame rates and the storage capacity is significantly increased.

All the storage vendors are now offering a range of SSD based storage appliances and using the very rough figures above, 24 hours of video footage would be less than a kilogram and £200. MPEG4/H.264 might not be the most ideal codec but I have used this example to illustrate how rapid advances in civilian technology, squeezing video down mobile and broadband links combined with the demand for solid state storage, can deliver tangible military benefits.

The key difference is that the system is available for the ‘customer’ to pull down, rather than pushed forward by request. This is a fundamental change in the way video imagery is provided, the existing stove-piped ‘knowledge is power’ structure is completely turned on its head, a paradigm shift if you want a ten pointer!

Gorgon Stare did have a number of problems, perhaps unsurprisingly for such an advanced system.

Moving beyond Gorgon Stare is the DARPA sponsored ARGUS-IS project being developed byBAe.

This ambitious programme will create a 1.8 Gigapixel camera system able to cover a 40 km2 area at 15 frames per second from an A160 Hummingbird or Reaper UAV. To process this enormous data volume it will use an airborne processing system to deliver up to 65 windows that users can zoom into or out of on demand. The software makes the difference; its advanced target recognition algorithms provide movement detection and target tracking.

Other payloads might include the ubiquitous EO sensor pod, SAR or multiples of the same.

It is ARGUS that has been in the news recently with a planned deployment to Afghanistan very soon.

The combination of ARGUS and the innovative long endurance high altitude Boeing A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter looks to have enormous potential, both at sea and overland.

There are also a number of reports that ARGUS is due to be mounted on the ginormous Blue Devil 2 airship, a week long endurance and all seeing eyes, combined with other sensors and an airborne radio relay is something that is hard to dislike!

Airships are not without their problems but the technology is rapidly maturing.

As a bit of an afterthought, we discussed the on/off Sea King ASaC Mk 7 replacement and noted a podded solution from Lockheed Martin called Vigilance as a front runner.

 

Vigilance Pod mounted on a Merlin helicopter
Vigilance Pod mounted on a Merlin helicopter

Given the Hummingbirds increasing maturity and the technology behind the Vigilance Pod, the same radar as the F35, would combining the two provide another option for CVF?

 

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Mark
Mark
January 20, 2012 5:51 pm

This is we’re the armed forces should be going. The ability to find track and if necessary engage individuals or organisations in any environment. Well never be able to have enough tanks ships planes or people so Istar is essiential. Gorgan stare shows promise and will be also now added to the us airforce king air mc12 liberty a/c program allowing on scene analysis.

Mark
Mark
January 20, 2012 6:15 pm

Indeed I think this were the army watchkeeper is a gd starting point don’t like there choice of air vehicle but the system behind the air vehicle is gd. Don’t know why we haven’t bought considerably more shadow a/c or different variants of it seems a no brainier to me. I also like the Swiss orc uav. Don’t like the French male thing in my view a waste of time air vehicles already exist. As is investing is ridiculously expensive ucavs. Much better to invest in this type of battlefield Uav recon technology in my view anyway.

If spending money on this means fewer troops a/c ships subs ect then in my view fine or moving much more heavy stuff to the reserves. Some argue this makes the armed forces more commando like but so be it.

Gabriele
Gabriele
January 20, 2012 6:22 pm

Shadow R1 and Reaper itself are UORs. As of now, it is NOT planned to retain them past 2015.

It is widely expected that Reaper will actually be extended, bringing it into core budget as “bridge” solution towards Telemos, but it is a feeling, not a plan.
Shadow R1, not a word about its long-term future.

As of now, post Afghanistan it will be lost.
If we are lucky, SDSR15 gives it a reprieve along with Sentinel, if the RAF really learned its lesson and wants more ISTAR as they say.
If we are a bit less but still lucky, perhaps the Shadow can go to 651 Sqn Army Air Corps to replace some of the old Islanders. (i say some because a few are actually only a few years old)

But as of now, they are both considered UORs. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111018/text/111018w0003.htm
So before thinking about upgrades, they have to be brought into Core as first priority.

All Politicians are the same
All Politicians are the same
January 20, 2012 6:34 pm

This is groundbreaking stuff but the real clever bit is linking it together, automatic analysis and finally, distribution, an area we have underfunded for ages because Typhon/FRES/CVF/JCA are obviously more important

Did I detect a hint of sarcasm? This stuff is important, when I was last in Iraq a lot of bases used surveilance blimps to monitor the surrounding areas 24 7 and also to raise the height of comms aerials making comms with convoys etc easier.
We do however still need the stuff that goes bang otherwise we will have all the monitoring capability of an Inner City Council and the same ability to post a fixed penalty notice.

SomewhatRemoved
January 20, 2012 6:35 pm

Buying funky UAV’s is one thing, having the personnel, equipment and comms links to download and analyse the data, and generate a useful product, is quite another.

Topman
Topman
January 20, 2012 7:09 pm

@ gabby i there are moves to bring reaper into core. Nothing concrete but some ‘background ‘ stuff that make sense with it being brought into core and pretty odd if it weren’t.

Hannay
Hannay
January 20, 2012 7:12 pm

It’s worth noting that COTS data storage usually isn’t suitable for TS material… Storing such sensitive data on the platform presents many difficulties.

The UK’s research and development in this area of surveillance systems etc. doesn’t get much publicity for obvious reasons. Scavenger is a lot more than building a new Reaper.

Re: Battlefield UAVs – generally MALE are much more adaptable. All-Weather, longer-ranged, Beyond-line-of-sight, able to be armed, and simply large enough to carry a large amount of surveillance systems.

Really it depends which way we want to go. Do we go with a fairly limited number of multi-role platforms but which can detect, track and engage, or single-role platforms that do each task individually.

RW
RW
January 20, 2012 7:14 pm

@TD

UAVs on CVF – reduction in flight crew – manned by analysts in the UK?

Next thing you’ll be suggesting that if we went all UAV on CVF( including long range strike like talarion derivatives………… linking up with the US X47B)

with all the cost savings on crews and training and pilots and pensions why then CVF would be a damn fine thing

Funny I never thought of that

James
James
January 20, 2012 7:18 pm

Bl**dy hell, TD. Have you been looking over my shoulder at the still only half done Airships article?

@ SomewhatRemoved: quite correct, although we are gradually solving the people / training aspect by a combination of joint service imagery analysis training, converging technical standards, and work on common ground stations.

Comms links are getting less problematic, but are still currently an issue. I think the sweet spot is going to come with the technology being developed in the US for “city broadcast” at WiMax bandwidth and several thousand concurrent users. Not there yet, but what it will do is give the military the ability to provide mobile bandwidth across the whole battlefield. Current thinking is to hoist it onto a “High Altitude Platform” – probably an airship at around 60,000 feet. Solar cells and a diesel backup generator and fuel could last for 6 months including providing power for station-keeping. Maybe one day we’ll see it as being a cheap man’s satellite.

Mark
Mark
January 20, 2012 7:51 pm

Hanney

I know a little of development of which you speak but we have the facility working with watchkeeper and Hermes have significantly larger drones which we could develop and add systems currently being developed so why reaper and another new male.
My quip on battlefield uavs is more do with all reasonably cheaper uavs current in ability to operate outside of a military air region and there inability to go inter continental and not spending Huge sums to change that.

Also the uk in my view need to look to balance uavs with cheap manned a/c like the shadow a/c which have greater flexibilty of movement and no were near the attrition rate and reduce bandwidth requirements (which the uk will never have enough off) these have benefit of some on scene analysis and can use the same Uav sensors.

DominicJ
January 20, 2012 7:51 pm

just throwing it out there…..
How hard is image analysis?
Conceivably, in a proper war, you could have hundreds of uavs airborne at any one time, all of them recoding 24/7 gets you far more footage than ‘trained intel’ blokes can process.
Is there a reason everyone else couldnt do a first pass look and see what they can see?
Could you ‘crowd source’ it to volunteers?
Isnt that the sort of thing the t/a should exist for?

paul g
January 20, 2012 7:59 pm

as well as wimax (802.16,wifi is 802.11a/b/g) there is WRAN, wireless regional area network. this uses the soon to be defunct analouge tv bandwidth and although averages at 1.5mps it can go 30-100km. dunno if it has any relevance, but i had to learn it, so might as well pass it on!

paul g
January 20, 2012 8:00 pm

damm forgot WRAN is 802.22, shit i’m boring!!

DominicJ
January 20, 2012 8:25 pm

paulg
you can get some range on a wifi hub if you use a pingles tube to make a directional antenna.

Gabriele
Gabriele
January 20, 2012 8:27 pm

@Topman

As i said, it is expected that Reaper will stay, in fact. Perhaps only one squadron with the 5 newer planes, though: the first ones have been used very, very hard, i hear, and they might run off life by 2015. Hopefully both 39 and 13 Sqns will have work in the long term.

But for now, it is not a firm plan. I’m glad to hear you hint at promising signals, though.

El Sid
El Sid
January 20, 2012 9:01 pm

OT but since we’re talking drones, Neuron was officially unveiled yesterday :

In other news EADS Cassidian have absorbed Rheinmetall’s UAS unit (technically it’s a 51:49 JV). Let’s see the Heron merge with an A380….

Topman
Topman
January 20, 2012 10:07 pm

@ gabby at the moment 39 and 13 will work side by side at waddington until 13 can work on it’s own then 39 sqn will stand down. If another sqn is required it will be 14 sqn. Although still some people will still be left at creech even after 39 have returned to the uk.

Gabriele
Gabriele
January 20, 2012 10:22 pm

Is it already planned that 39 Sqn will disband, then…?
I hoped it would not happen.
Thanks for sharing, even if it is not good news. I thought both squadrons would continue to exist, both using Reaper, since the fleet is doubling in size.

Hugh
Hugh
January 21, 2012 9:02 am

Was the unveiling of the Neuron in that Iranian gymnasium again? I think we should be told…

Hannay
Hannay
January 21, 2012 10:11 am

@DominicJ: It’s probably not a good idea to crowd source S or TS image intelligence data.

@Mark: There’s quite some difference in scale between TUAS and MALE and this corresponds with what payload you can mount. For example, for can integrate a 1000kg payload onto most MALE which is a very capable sensor suite. It’s difficult to do this with Watchkeeper given the total aircraft mass of ~450kg. Hence you’re left with fewer and far less capable sensors.

Bringing Reaper into core: there are many hidden issues involved, like airworthiness. It might not be a bad stopgap option if the US will continue to let us piggyback onto their operations out of Creech. Have most personnel at Waddington but the platforms in the US post-2015 piggybacking on the training setup there.

@TD: A-160 Hummingbird has some impressive performance numbers but bear in mind that it’s even larger than Reaper and the performance doesn’t look as good against a fixed-wing type. The performance levels are achieved by cutting back safety factors way more than for manned helicopters, e.g. slowing down the rotor during forward flight. It could be useful for QEC, but really needs additional roles as well e.g. autonomous logisitics to make it worth purchasing a new system over a Merlin modification.

DominicJ
January 21, 2012 10:53 am

td
this is my ‘thinking’ a while back, give everyone a cell phone type thing, set up long range transmitters in fixed bases and your laughing.

Why not operate a big fleet of uavs from bastion, controlled by regs or ta in the uk, every firebase can have a 24/7 overwatch, stick a designator on it to mark targets for guided artilery.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 21, 2012 11:00 am

Hi TD,

Good point “After 5 or 6 years I still can’t quite understand why we don’t have an established TETRA/TETRAPOL network in Helmand, we have one in Kosovo. Instead, we have infantry carrying their own weight in batteries and racking up huge satcom bills.”
– maybe the contour effects are so extreme that even TETRA can’t deal with them?

Phil
January 21, 2012 11:29 am

The new radio batteries are extremely light and they last a LONG time, batteries for the radio were not a problem. Batteries for other things were but there’s no getting around that.

ChrisM
ChrisM
January 21, 2012 11:36 am

I have two questions for those technically knowledgeable:
1) Isnt a lot of this stuff COIN-centric, needing a permissive environment?
2) How difficult is it to modify a SAM to home on these UAVs? I assume the SATCOMs broadcast upward and are difficult to locate from the ground, but surely a SAR sensor is a pretty simple homing target? Or do they fly too high, needing a missile big enough to be a clear target?

Keep wondering about these “future warrior” concepts. They seem to have a decent EM signal that you could home artillery onto??

Mark
Mark
January 21, 2012 12:05 pm

Hanney

I accept that distinction. What I cant understand is why not the Hermes 900 or 1500 Uav for the male requirement. Both are much bigger with armaments and are able to be operated from the hemes 450 ground station. Further uk development of these platforms within the watchkeeper program would have made much more sense than reaper or indeed the French/uk male program. For me personnelly while allowing Uav to use hellfire brimstone is acceptable ordnance dropping bigger than that should leave it to jets but there you go.

Topman
Topman
January 21, 2012 12:08 pm

@ chris m re your second point. I wouldn’t think it would be difficult at all. They don’t have any ecm onboard they are still pretty slow. Future ones will have to look at this and no doubt are at the moment.

Gabriele
Gabriele
January 21, 2012 12:45 pm

“Both are much bigger with armaments and are able to be operated from the hemes 450 ground station.”

I wouldn’t worry for the ground station segment: Raytheon is developing the Common Ground Control System (CGCS), capable to command multiple different kinds of UAVs.
It has already demonstrated the system to Britain as an offer for the Scavenger/Telemos programme.
Said Common GCS could command Telemos, Watchkeeper, or any other UAV, and provide the core of a scalable ground segment including everything from portable, handheld ROVER terminals for Fire Support Teams and JTACs of Royal Artillery and RAF (ROVER is already used in Afghanistan) all the way up to TEU containers with the full control of the drone(s) and the means to redistribute the imagery.

There are other ways to obtain commonality and interoperability than limiting the options and choice of drone.

@TD

I can’t quite decide if you are sarcastic or not, but either way i don’t care.
On the Squadrons reasoning, yes, in cold and detached reasoning the badge and Sqn number kind of are meaningless, but i tend to be a little bit more affective towards names and badges and histories of the various units. Call me sentimental, if you want. I guess i am.

SomewhatRemoved
January 21, 2012 2:38 pm

Hannay picked up on a problem I have heard about with Reaper, that it is not sufficiently airworthy nor is it authorised to fly in controlled airspace. That might be fine for Afghanistan, and the FAA can probably do whatever they want in US airspace, but that is a major hurdle to overcome in the rest of the world. I gather the UK effort has focused much more on meeting these requirements.

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
January 21, 2012 7:51 pm

@ TD – what sort of equipment/support does the Hummingbird require over a standard helicopter? Could a number be operated from Repuse’s UAV/helo carrier or even a Frigate/Destroyer?

Aussie Johnno
Aussie Johnno
January 23, 2012 1:41 am

Late as usual, but I note that the Shadow’s have been split out of 5 SQN and are now operated by a reformed 14 SQN (previously GR4).

Is this an indication that either or both the Sentinels and Shadows will be retained post your Afgan pull out (contrary to SDSR plans)? Or is the RAF just being hopeful?

Both Afganistan and Libya demonstrate in spades that the game is as much find the target as it is hit the target. It also demonstrates that the US priority is elswhere and your government cannot just assume availability of US assets.

Topman
Topman
January 23, 2012 6:51 am

‘Is this an indication that either or both the Sentinels and Shadows will be retained post your Afgan pull out (contrary to SDSR plans)?’

There does seem to be moves behind the scenes so to speak. Thanks for the Sqn updates, seem to be getting mine all mixed up!

DominicJ
January 23, 2012 7:33 am

slightly ot but….

Do you know that system on vehicles that detects incoming fire and locates the source.
Could that be distributed amongst a patrol?
By the time everyones ducked down, its worked out bearing and range and just needs a way to display. AR gunsight, iphone, ipad?

Phil
January 23, 2012 9:18 am

Already tried. Nobody likes it. It’s not particularly effective versus the encumbrance of the poor sod that had to carry it. There’s pictures of the system somewhere on some lucky royal marines back.

DominicJ
DominicJ
January 23, 2012 9:45 am

Phil
Sorry I meant give each soldier a portion of the system.
An 8 man section gets 8 microphones, one per man.
One unfortunate then gets the processing bit, and section leader gets the display.

You’d need to account for variable microphone placement, easy enough they’re all chatting wirelessly, probably not completely accurate, but a good guess is better than no guess.

But of course, it requires thinking outside the box so will never happen :)

Phil
January 23, 2012 10:20 am

It also makes the kit more complex, produces electronic emissions and I don’t think the man portable version is reliable enough as it is without making it more complex and more points of failure. Boomerang etc just don’t seem that popular because I think the advertising doesn’t live up to the reality.

DominicJ
DominicJ
January 23, 2012 10:46 am

Fair enough, in this, I bow to your superior knowledge.

However, technology only goes one way….

Phil
January 23, 2012 11:01 am

I played with boomerang. We had two sets. It spent most of its time broken which I don’t know if that is a reliability or training issue. The one time it was on when rounds came in all the lights started flashing. Again I don’t know if it was a problem with the installation. Either way everyone lost confidence in it. I saw a Facebook photo from my successor and you could see the antenna as it were was on the floor so it was either being fixed or not used anymore.

Observer
Observer
January 24, 2012 12:32 am

Not to mention Boomerang was a acoustic detector and had problems with echos in confined spaces. My guess as to why it overloaded when Phil used it, too much noise.

observer
observer
January 26, 2012 9:51 am

H’mm suggesting a AEW a/c designed to provide an AD surveilance bubble around a group of ships can provide persistent surveillance in the ground environment does rather stretch the English language.

Airborne platforms are by nature ‘time on target’ and to provide continuous cover requires several aircraft rotating on task. It might have some utility in a short conventional war. For COIN there are other solutions which seem to be working pretty well. Eg the Heavy and Persistent Base Protection systems (hence ignorinn the Light and Medium systems). Eg Airliner, Livingstone, Cortez, PGSS, all of which contribute to the total networked picture provided throughout TF Helmand. Of course the aerostats are susceptable to high wind but they are only one of the platforms. The key is the guys continuously watching the local patterns of life captured by these systems across a fairly wide part of the spectrum (some of which are limited to relatively few kms, indicating the big eye in the sky may not be entirely satisfactory). The time on target systems (UAVs and manned a/c) have their useful place but ‘persistent’ they are not.

DominicJ
DominicJ
January 26, 2012 11:19 am

Observer
Grey something, has a 36 hour endurance.
Take out three hours each way to reach the target area and it has a 30 hour loiter.
With just two drones, you have a 22 hour turnaround window for 24/7 coverage.

Perhaps not as persistant as sticking the sensor package on a pole, but hardly short term

Gareth Jones
Gareth Jones
January 26, 2012 11:21 am

@ Observer – “suggesting a AEW a/c designed to provide an AD surveilance bubble around a group of ships can provide persistent surveillance in the ground environment does rather stretch the English language.” what about… Obersver? ;p