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Sensor Increases Battlefield Awareness

Sensor Increases Battlefield Awareness

By Laura L. Lundin, Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs.

Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusets -- (AFPN) February 3, 2006 -- Air Force Research Laboratory engineers are developing a tool that will provide troops superior battlefield awareness with real-time threat information.

The tool is the Cross Dispersion Prism sensor. According to William Ewing, one of the principal developers, the sensor is a passive electro-optical infrared sensor that allows for continuous surveillance of an area. It will be used to detect, locate, identify and classify energetic events, such as explosions, in real-time, through an application of rapid spectral and temporal sensing.

Using pseudo-imaging, the sensor registers an explosion's spectral/temporal signature, or fingerprint. Then it identifies the explosion and classifies it based on information compiled by the lab in a library of spectral images. The sensor also reveals the location, allowing battlefield commanders to make decisions based on highly accurate, reliable information.

"The CDP tells the story of how an explosion developed," said Dr. Ewing. “It allows us to tell the difference between artillery, bombs, small arms fire, etc."

"We used to use only temporal signatures to determine the details of these events, so this technology offers a significant advantage over what has been done before," Dr. Ewing said.

The project began in June 2004 and proceeded in record time.

"In less than two years, we have gone from an idea to something we can actually have in the field," Dr. Ewing said.

During this time, the lab produced a proof of concept, successfully integrated the system onto air and ground platforms, and is working on a flight-qualified sensor.

"I've never seen anything come up through the research process this quickly. Very rarely do you take something from concept phase to being field tested two years later," said Jim Murrin, deputy branch chief of the program.

"The great thing is that we are ahead of schedule and on budget," said Darin Leahy, program manager for the project. "When we first started, we were a little skeptical about how well it would work, but, in a month, we'd built the first one, and it was working really well. That's when we knew we really had something."

Considered a wide field-of-view sensor, it is a unique optical assembly that senses light from the visible through the infrared range by placing a pair of prisms in front of a high-speed commercial camera (400 to 500 images per second). The data is then processed by a computer and calculates a probability of what the event was and its location. In addition, the system is fairly inexpensive and needs little maintenance.

In tests so far, the system has proven highly accurate and has a low false-alarm rate, which could lead to several potential applications.

"The original idea was to place the sensor on top of a pole for surveillance of a perimeter, like around the Green Zone in Iraq, or on a vehicle," Mr. Leahy said. "But, when we saw how well the sensor performed, the potential uses grew."

One primary application will be to equip the system on unmanned aerial vehicles, which could help the UAV conduct surveillance of a broader area, providing greater visibility and better situational awareness. The system was already been tested aboard a Naval Air Systems Command Aerostar UAV in 2005, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.

Other applications could be in missile defense, early launch detection, missile typing, and bomb damage and kill assessment -- as well as astronomy, space observation and nuclear testing verification, said program engineers.

Mr. Leahy said the lab's classification of larger threats, including foreign and domestic long-range missiles, will begin in spring 2006.

"The certainty is above 95 percent, and that allows for less guesswork on the operator's part," he said.

The system's ability to deliver a continuous stream of information is also important to coordination of the battlefield and provides warfighters better tactical information.

"You can keep track of where you are and, more importantly, keep track of where the enemy is," said 1st Lt. Adam Goobic, an infrared applications development engineer with the sensors directorate. "It also will provide exact coordinates of an explosion in near real time, including longitude and latitude."

"With everything that we have seen so far, this technology will be a great benefit to the Air Force as well as other services," Mr. Leahy said.

Final testing is scheduled for September at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.

(Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).