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Just-in-time targeting: real-time reconnaissance shortens the sensor-to-shooter kill chain.

Possible foes of US and Western forces are trying to avoid conventional confrontations, and apart from considering asymmetric warfare, are relying more on light forces such as infantry (guerrillas); Operation Enduring Freedom is, therefore, in may ways seen as a model for future conflict. It is also worth mentioning that the Russian experience in Chechnya is an alternate model, where overwhelming force is brought to bear on guerrillas more or less indiscriminately. The most effective precision engagement of agile targets like those seen in Afghanistan requires a shortening of the sensor-to-shooter kill chain. Increasingly real-time targeting and hence real-time reconnaissance is demanded. US and allied forces have recognized this need and a number of production and development programs exist.

The primary reconnaissance asset, especially in the tactical context, used to be manned aircraft, either derivatives of in-service fighters such as the RF-4 still in service with a number of European and Asian air forces and the Mirage FICR of the French Air Force, or standard combat platforms equipped with reconnaissance pods (see "Recce Pieces," JED, June 2002, p. 44). However, reconnaissance has suffered from lack of funding in the past, and the dedicated assets were early casualties of the Cold War force drawdowns. This setting has spurred the rise in popularity of pods. But a new technology has more recently also appeared, particularly in Afghanistan. Unmanned aircraft have proven that they can undertake many missions previously considered the domain of manned systems. Although UAVs will continue to make inroads into reconnaissance operations, including those requiring real-time performance, the main Western programs continue to focus on manned systems.

As leading air powers seek greater spectral coverage for improved reconnaissance, the variety of sensors being used is growing. Wet-film is losing its dominance, and electro-optical (EO) and infrared (IR) sensors are becoming more prevalent, along with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR). This trend promotes real-time image transmission since such a capability demands reduced image development time, made possible by the use of such sensors.

US Efforts

A leading US program is the Raytheon (El Segundo, CA) Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP), currently being deployed on US Navy F/A-18s. The SHARP pod, comparable to a 330-gallon fuel tank in dimensions, includes the dual-band (visible and IR), medium-range Recon Optical (Barrington, IL) CA-270 camera, a digital recorder, and a steerable antenna. Raytheon points out that, unlike other pods, the SHARP pod is mounted on a bomb rack and not on the aircraft body or missile rail, permitting the aircraft to retain its full air-to-air capabilities. The major components of the CA-270 are a stabilized imaging unit, image-processing unit, power-conversion unit, and an environmental-control system (ECS) to cool components. The camera operates simultaneously in two bands and shoots perpendicular to the line of flight through a 11x18-in. window that is oriented via a rotating (horizon-to-horizon) midsection assembly. Podand aircraft-supplied navigation data allow the camera to be oriented automatically, with imagery transmit ted in real time to ground operators in a Navy Input Station (NAVIS). Imagery is also sent to the aircrew's displays for onboard monitoring.

During the summer of 2001, the SHARP's real-time capabilities were demonstrated in a high-profile flight over the Pentagon. Two aircraft--a F/A-18 and a P-3--were flown in the medium (5-15 miles) and long (15-50 miles) range reconnaissance roles, respectively. The CA-279/M3 camera was able to capture imagery in both bands with the data transmitted via a 274-megabit-per-second Common Datalink to the NAVIS for analysis. The P-3 flew at about 11,000 ft., producing 5,040x5,040-pixel visible and 1,680 x 1,680-pixel IR images. The Naval Research Laboratory has also developed the Airborne Real-time Imagery Exploitation System (ARIES) to allow improved image utilization. The SHARP program made its first flight under Navy auspices on November 7, 2002.

Unlike other real-time reconnaissance systems, the BAE Systems (Greenlawn, NY) Advanced Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) has already been used operationally. It was employed successfully by US Marine Corps F/A-18D (RC) aircraft in Kosovo to provide high-resolution real-time/near real-time imagery. The ATARS includes the Infrared Line Scanner (IRLS) and visible-light Low and Medium Altitude Electro-Optical (LAEO and MAEO) sensors, two digital tape recorders, and a reconnaissance management system. It also includes an interface with the F/A-18's APG-73 radar for SAR functions. These sensors and components are packaged as a palletized assembly that replaces the gun and ammunition in the nose of the F/A-18D. In addition, the ATARS makes use of a centerline-mounted datalink pod. Information passes via the Common Datalink to the Marine Corps' Tactical Exploitation Group--composed of three Humvees and a shelter--and other Common Imaging Ground/Surface Stations. Nineteen ATARS units are being acquired .

In May 1999, US Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 deployed to Hungary with two ATARS-compatible aircraft in support of the Operation Allied Force campaign against the former Yugoslavia. Because the ATARS was internally mounted, the multi-role Hornet aircraft retained their combat capability, and were able to conduct various other combat duties in addition to reconnaissance. Apart from the real-time capability, the SAR-enabled all-weather imaging capability was highly-valued. In October 2002, the Navy indicated its intention to integrate a solid-state digital recorder with the system.

Another fielded US system which has been upgraded to allow a real-time capability is the BAE Systems Tactical Air Reconnaissance System (TARS). The The US Air National Guard obtained 20 TARS podded systems and five squadron ground stations in 2001. These equip the Air National Guard's 192nd Fighter Wing at Richmond, VA, and 127th Fighter Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, MI.

On July 18, 2001, the first demonstration of a real-time capability using the TARS was conducted. The flight occurred from Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, and involved the transmission of wideband, high-resolution imagery. In December 2002, the USAF Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright Patterson AFB, OH, awarded BAE Systems a $3.8-million contract to upgrade the TARS in Air National Guard F-16C aircraft. The reconnaissance fleet is receiving a modern Airborne Information Transmission (ABIT) datalink and solid-state recorder.

Another modern reconnaissance system is the BAE Systems Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS), which is a near-real-time-capable system with long range. The AARS has a focal length of 120 in., providing a high-altitude capability.

A recently conducted experiment is pointing at future directions for the transmission of real-time imagery. An aim of the Boeing (St. Louis, MO) Weapon System Open Architecture (WSOA) program is to demonstrate the rapid transmission of targeting and other critical information between attack aircraft and command and control ([C.sup.2]) platforms. In the evaluation, the striker is represented by the F-15E1 advanced technology demonstrator and a [C.sup.2]-equipped 737 avionics flying laboratory (see sidebar). The aircraft were able to share images and other data using the Link 16 tactical data link through which TCP/IP packets were transmitted (under the Internet TCP/IP protocol). Although Link 16 suffers from being slow, the F-15 received actionable target imagery within 20 seconds. The USAF would like to field an F-15E wing with this capability.

The most effective real-time reconnaissance demands a universal data linking protocol among not only the US services but also NATO allies.

This will allow the USAF and indeed other leading allied air forces to anticipate the day when information can be seamlessly transmitted from any sensor to any shooter and in real-time.

UK Moves Ahead

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is updating examples of its Tomado long-range strike fleet with the Goodrich Aerospace (Danbury, CT) Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR). The importance of this program to the RAF can be Judged by the fact that, along with the Storm Shadow and Brimstone weapons, it is considered one of the "Big 3" systems associated with the Tornado GR.4 Package 2 upgrade.

The RAPTOR is based on the DB-110 sensor system. The DB-110 has focal lengths of 110 in. and 55 in. in the visible and IR bands, respectively, which enables high-resolution images to be obtained at ranges of 20-80 miles, although it is also capable at shorter ranges. The DB-110 scans at 90 degrees to the flight path and has an 180-degree field of regard. Scanning is bi-directional; images are collected both when the sensor scans away from the aircraft track and when it returns. The visible and IR bands use a line array and two area arrays, respectively, and the three main image-collection modes are wide-area search, spot and stereo/target tracking. The DB-110 sensor has been flown on and collected high-resolution pictures from the Tornado, F-111, F-4, and F-15. Significantly, the capability of the DB-110 enables impressive stand-off performance. For instance, vehicle-sized targets can be clearly seen from demonstration pictures taken 58 miles away and 24,000 ft. in altitude.

The RAPTOR pod's dimensions approach 20 ft. in length and 2,000 lb in weight. It contains the DB-110 camera, a reconnaissance-management system, sensor-control unit, pod-power-distribution unit, digital tape recorder, datalink components (including antennas), and an environmental-conditioning system. The television tabulator display in the rear cockpit of the Tornado allows the navigator to not only observe the pre-planned image collection but to modify this process.

The Tornado Advanced Mission Planning Aid is to be adapted for the use of RAPTOR, but until that is achieved, a dedicated mission-planning system has been developed for it. Air-tasking orders and other requirements drive the image-collection needs of the mission. The plan is transferred via a PCMCIA card to the data transfer module in the pod, from which it is passed on to the reconnaissance management system, thus enabling autonomous target acquisition. Ground operators in Datalink Ground Station (DLGS) also receive a disk with the flight plan information. A mobile DLGS can accommodate up to four imagery analysts, who can monitor and manipulate RAPTOR data live from the datalink or through high data-rate tape. The DLGS can also accept data from other NATO systems.

The RAPTOR program got off to a slow start. Flight trials began in 2001, with specific areas of concern including the strength of the system, sensor operation, and the datalink. Nevertheless, the RAPTOR was officially accepted into RAF service on September 26, 2002, a month earlier than planned. The RAF is receiving eight RAPTOR pods and two DLGS units. The service is also getting eight dummy training pods. While some areas of the overall RAPTOR program are still undergoing evaluation, the program has progressed smoothly since the system entered service.

Other European Programs

The French Air Force currently conducts reconnaissance via the specialized Dassault Mirage FICR aircraft. The array of sensors on the aircraft includes the Super Cyclope real-time IR device. In late 2000, Thales Optronique (Guyancourt, France) received a $393-million contract from France's defense-procurement agency (DGA) to develop and supply a newgeneration optronic airborne reconnaissance system for the French Air Force and Navy, the largest contract the company received from the DGA that year. The digital Reconnaissance Nouvelle Generation (Reco NO) pod will include electro-optical sensors; a solid-state recorder; and a high speed, real-time, air-to-ground datalink. Thales said "several dozen" systems are to be produced for France's reconnaissance-tasked combat aircraft. Service entry is planned from 2006 on the Mirage 2000N nuclear strike aircraft and from 2008 on the Rafale multi-role fighters. The latter, having been designed from the outset for real-time communication between both other aircraft and g round stations, is better able to take advantage of the full potential of the Reco NG.

The Saab IAS 39 Gripen can accommodate recce pods on pylons 4 and 5, having been designed for such systems with a 1553B databus signal interface to convey the images to the relevant cockpit display. The Swedish Air Force has contracted Saab Avionics (Iarfalla, Sweden) to develop a reconnaissance system for the service's Gripens. Saab, in turn, has subcontracted Terma A/S (Lystrup, Denmark) to deliver its new MRP 39 reconnaissance pod. The pod is capable of accommodating a range of sensors, including IR and EO cameras. High-resolution images can be recorded and displayed live on a cockpit display. Additionally, events can be tagged for easy retrieval later. The advanced Tactical Information Data Link System (TIDLS), slated for delivery in 2004, allows real-time transmission of information between the aircraft and ground units.

Pod-based reconnaissance systems are inherently modular, but Saab is emphasizing system adaptability, offering customers the possibility of integrating other pods. Indeed, given Sweden's traditional emphasis on network-centric warfare and more specifically data linking, the Gripen is better suited than other in-service combat aircraft for accommodating different recce pods (see "Lion of the Sky," JED, April 2002, p. 38). These could include (but are not limited to) the Thales Optronics (Bury St. Edmonds, UK) 72C and 601 EOAR and the Zeiss (Oberkochen, Germany)/Rafael (Haifa, Israel) Recce Lite.

The Italian Air Force aims to replace the wet-film pods on its AMX attack aircraft by 2005. The new system will have SAR, EO, and IR sensors to enable a long-range, all-weather, 24hour reconnaissance capability. A datalink to allow real-time operations is also required.

A Small Club

Ouside of Europe, ElectroOptics Industries (EIOp) (Rehovot, Israel) a subsidiary of Elbit Systems (Haifa, Israel) has developed the ElectroOptic Long Range Oblique Photography (EO/IR LOROP) system for high-altitude stand-off missions. The real-time capable system can work in the visible and IR bands at altitudes of 20,000 to 50,000 ft. and at ranges of over 60 miles. The panoramic sector scanner is based on a thermally stable dual-spectrum telescope. The ground station is composed of a receiving unit and a mobile image-exploitation unit. A decision to supply Israeli RF-4 and F-16 aircraft with EO/IR LOROP systems was announced in the summer of 2002.

Most air forces outside of these do not have real-time ambitions. For instance the Royal Netherlands Air Force, which has in the past been an innovator with regard to F-16 recce operations, does not have a current real-time reconnaissance capability, nor is there a requirement for one, said a representative of the service. On the other end of the world, the Royal Australian Air Force, one of the leading air powers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, which currently uses four dedicated RF-111C aircraft for reconnaissance, has not announced any manned aircraft recce programs.


The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is providing its Tornado GR.4 strike fleet with the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado (RAPTOR) as part of the Package 2 upgrade. The importance of this program to the RAF can be judged by the fact that, along with the Storm Shadow and Brimstone weapons, it is considered on eof the "Big 3" systems associated with the program.

The US Air National Guard has acquired 20 Tactical Air Reconnaissance System (TARS) pods for its F-160s, providing a real-time reconnaissance capability. The TARS pod is mounted on the centerline hardpoint.

Hyperspectral Activity

Sensor spectral coverage will continue to grow. An indicative program is the BAE Systems Long Range Hyperspectral Imaging System, being developed for carriage by both manned and unmanned aircraft. The increased spectral range enables camouflaged, concealed, and deceptive targets to be located by their gaseous emissions, which would not be detectable by other reconnaissance systems. In August 2001, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, awarded BAE Systems a contract for the next-generation Spectral Infrared Remote Imaging Transit Testbed (SPIRITT). The program's goal is to field an operational prototype of a day/night, long-range reconnaissance imaging system that uses a hyperspectral sensor system with integrated high resolution imaging. Flight-testing is planned for the fall of 2003.

The Swedish Air Force has a requirement for real-time reconnaissance capabilities for its JAS 39 Gripen multi-role aircraft. Terma of Denmark is supplying its MRP 39 reconnaissance pod that can accommodate a range of sensors, including IR and EO cameras. The advanced Tactical Information Data Link System (TIDLS), slated for delivery in 2004, allows real-time transmission of information between the aircraft and ground units.

Gripen International photo

You've got targets!

Striking time-critical targets requires real-time reconnaissance, and the US Air Force Research Laboratory (Wright-Patterson AFB, OH), along with the Boeing Co. (St. Louis, MO), is working hard to bring such a capability to the battlefield under the Weapon System Open Architecture (WSOA) program, an effort aimed at developing an Internet-like connectivity between a command-and-control ([C.sup.2]) aircraft and strike assets.

In December 2002, the Lab's Information Directorate and Boeing conducted a series of flight demonstrations featuring the WSOA capability. These involved the F-15E1 Advanced Technology Demonstrator and the Boeing-owned 737 Avionics Flying Laboratory (AFL) configured as a [C.sup.2] aircraft. In a time-critical targeting scenario, real-time imagery collaboration and mission re-planning between a [C.sup.2] operator onboard the AFL and the F-15's weaponsystem officer (WSO). The F-15 was launched on a pre-planned mission, then re-tasked to go after a higher-priority target. The new targeting information was received by the AFL via satellite using the Joint Tactical Terminal, and the AFL relayed a folder of thumbnail images to the F- 15 via Link 16. The WSO was then able to select one of the thumbnail images and download a full-size version over the datalink--all within the first 20 seconds of the flight.

According the Kenneth Littlejohn, team leader at the AFRL's Information Directorate, the WSOA program demonstrated that it can indeed build a "bridge" to enable increased interoperability among [C.sup.2] and strike platforms. The WSOA, he said, enables the sharing of several types of data-- namely, target imagery, threat locations, and route plans. The target imagery, which resides off-board the strike aircraft, is initially provided to the F-15E WSO via image thumbnails included in the target folder. Threat locations enable the C' operator to precisely identify and annotate the location on the target image. Finally, the [C.sup.2] operator and WSO can coordinate on route plans via annotations on the target image.

This "Internet-like" connection, Littlejohn explained, is made possible by the creation of a shared display that is replicated at operator stations on the [C.sup.2] and strike platforms. This enables a common battlespace view that allows real-time collaboration--in effect, a "tactical net meeting"--to identify and attack the target. This connection supports information browsing such that the F-15E WSO can access [C.sup.2] data products, imagery, and a virtual target folder. The foundation of the "Internet-like" connection is the interoperability layer, which leverages commercial middleware technologies and adaptive resource-management technologies developed under the DARPA Quorum program. The creation of a Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) layer over Link-16 functions as a "virtual backplane" to support browser requests for imagery, targeting data, and other situational-awareness information. Adaptive resource-management technologies effectively manage and allocate required resources to ensure timely exchange and processing of mission-critical information by both aircraft, even in the most time-sensitive situations.

Where will the AFRL take the WSOA program from here? Along with further maturing the system in general, the lab hopes to expand the WSOA to include multiple clients, including both airborne and ground-based [C.sup.2] platforms, as well as additional strike platforms, said Littlejohn. In addition, his team will attempt to extend the foundational interoperability layer to incorporate Internet Protocol-based data streams to provide greater horizontal integration of tactical platforms. He added that the AFRL is also investigating demonstration opportunities within larger exercises sponsored by the Department of Defense, such as the Joint Forces Experiment (JFEX).

-- Brendan P. Rivers

The combination of high-resolution optics with datalinks provides ground controllers with the opportunity to identify and examine targets as they are spotted. In addition to improving the overall situational awareness, this real-time capability enables targets to be engaged more rapidly.
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Comment:Just-in-time targeting: real-time reconnaissance shortens the sensor-to-shooter kill chain.
Author:Pustam, Anil R.
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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