Warfighter Use of Commercial Imagery
Bolstering the use of ISR with Battlespace Situational Awareness
Providing commercial remote sensing data directly to our nation’s warfighters could prove beneficial. This premise is consistent with the commercial space guidelines of the National Space Policy: “to the extent feasible, pursue innovative methods for procurement of space products and services.” In an April 25, 2003 National Security Order, President George W. Bush reiterated plans to use commercially available satellite images to the greatest extent possible to meet U.S. military, intelligence, foreign policy, homeland security, and first-responder needs. With sub-meter image resolution, the commercial remote sensing industry has become an important information source to the warfighter.
Over the last few years, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper has been emphasizing the need for “horizontal integration of our manned, unmanned, and space assets in order to provide real-time actionable, exploitable intelligence to commanders.”
He also contends that our military’s success depends upon reducing the find, fix, track, target, engage, and assess (F2T2EA) cycle and upon achieving persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. These needs are driven by the military’s transformation or shift from the threat-based approach of the Cold War era to a capabilities-based approach focusing on information superiority, precision engagement, and rapid global mobility. The new approach trades armor (or inches of steel) for better information and intelligence, characterized by battlespace situational awareness unveiling the battlefield environment to combatant commanders and decision makers.
The United States has a variety of ISR assets providing warfighters the information they need to conduct their missions, which range from turning back aggression and helping to secure peace to providing assistance to Humanitarian Relief Operations. Battlespace situational awareness requires persistent surveillance and real-time direct tasking of ISR assets. The IRS systems in Figure 1 are the “organic” assets that are tasked directly from the theater controlled by Combatant Commander. Commercial remote sensing satellites operational today have the potential to augment the military’s suite of ISR assets supporting battlespace awareness, especially if they can be tasked like an organic asset.
An example of a commercial remote sensing system that can be tasked directly is Space Imaging’s IKONOS. Raytheon (Waltham, Mass.), as a co-owner of Space Imaging (Thornton, Colo.), performs the development and support for the end-to-end ground architecture that receives, tasks, processes and disseminates imagery. The system receives orders from customers, generates collection tasking, uplinks commands to the satellites, receives and archives collected imagery and telemetry data, and generates products for distribution.
Raytheon has delivered over 12 regional operational centers (ROC) or ground stations to customers throughout the world, including Space Imaging affiliates: Space Imaging Middle East (Dubai), Japan Space Imaging (Tokyo), Space Imaging Asia (Seoul), Space Imaging Eurasia (Ankara), and European Space Imaging (Munich), as well as Space Imaging Southeast Asia (Bangkok). The customers of these remote systems have the ability to uplink collection requirements “on the pass” and receive data back while the satellite is over the station. The ROC architecture provides the capability both to directly task the payload from remote ground terminals and to downlink imagery, facilitating direct tasking of the satellite by battlefield commanders.
The ISR assets in Figure 1 are independent systems that require centralized control to effectively exploit their capabilities. This control is provided, in conjunction with the Joint Task Force, by the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), which Raytheon is developing for the Air Force. For commercial imagery systems to be included in the military’s suite of ISR assets they must be effectively integrated into an ISR management system to reach their full potential. As part of DCGS, Raytheon’s ISR Warrior supports the management ISR sensor platforms such as the U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft and the Global Hawk and Predator unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs). Raytheon’s ISR Warrior architecture can extend to new sensors such as those provided by commercial remote sensing systems.
Figure 2 shows a pictorial representation of a theater battlespace managed by ISR Warrior, which centralizes control and visualization of assets, thus improving intelligence information. It provides real-time mission monitoring, which reduces time-critical targeting and F2T2EA timelines. The ISR Warrior also provides the operator with the tools to affect and expedite decisions once ISR decisions have been made.
ISR Warrior is a Web-based decision system that provides the warfighter a consolidated picture of the theater battlespace. It accomplishes this through the visualization of ISR assets overlaid with order of battle, collections plans and planned targets along with tip-off information from Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT), and Moving Target Indicator (MTI) sources. ISR Warrior provides the ability to re-task ISR assets in support of time-critical/time-sensitive targeting. The 3-D capabilities shown in Figure 3 give the operator the ability to view weather information, terrain delimitation data, and threat domes. The operator can monitor each platform’s collection and navigation plan, track the asset’s position and the sensor’s field of regard or field of view.
The commercial imagery challenge to support warfighters will be integrating its capability and other ISR sensors to enhance tactical surveillance and time-critical targeting. To be of significant military value, the contribution will be measured against the tactical F2T2EA and the ability to support accurate and real-time battlefield situational awareness. Can commercial imagery systems work effectively with other ISR platforms? Horizontal integration is the key to improving persistent surveillance. For commercial imagery direct to the warfighter, the path to horizontal integration is through the DCGS and the cross-platform coordination of its ISR Warrior component.
A military exercise, such as those conducted by U.S. Joint Forces Command, using a directly tasked commercial remote sensing system and ISR Warrior would be an ideal way to evaluate the benefits of providing commercial imagery directly to the warfighter. Through wargames, we can determine circumstances where commercial imagery is particularly valuable or where it can compensate for the unavailability of other ISR assets. We can show the power of fusing commercial imagery with data from other assets in near real-time. We can also show the utility to an ISR Warrior operator of using commercial imagery to dynamically re-task other assets and vice-versa. Re-tasking is instrumental to reducing the F2T2EA cycle by changing ISR collection activities on the fly in response to the dynamic battlefield environment.