IEDs are far and away the greatest threat to our armed forces in Afghanistan, having killed nearly 700 soldiers since 2001 and accounting for roughly half of all US troop deaths in the region since 2008. The newly developed ASTAMIDS system aims to find these booby traps before our ground forces do.
ASTAMIDS, short for "Airborne Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Minefield Detection System", is a state-of-the-art ground-penetrating laser system built by Northrop-Grumman for use aboard the MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV, the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft. It detects mines ahead of ground forces -- day or night -- by identifying and classifying thermal and visual anomalies as potential danger areas. The system is capable of quickly identifying the presence of a field and differentiating between surface, buried and scattered mines.
To accomplish this feat, the 34kg multi-sensor system relies on multi-spectral imaging using quad-prism aperture-splitting technology assisted by an integrated illuminator, target rangefinder, flight package (GPS, altimeter) and laser designator. It's mounted on an aircraft that flies ahead of advancing forces at a height of 90m and at a speed of about 70 knots. The sensor can observe an area 38m wide on every pass, and has a two-hour operational capability.
"ASTAMIDS itself is important because of what it will do to alert our ground combat soldiers of approaching threats," said Bob Klein, vice president of Northrop Grumman Maritime and Tactical Systems integrated product team. "What makes this sensor-vehicle combination so significant is that Fire Scout can carry ASTAMIDS far beyond the point of US ground forces to detect the presence of minefields and sight enemy locations without putting a single soldier at risk."
The system's rapid detection capability makes it useful in a variety of situations. Beyond protecting advancing forces, it can also be used during forward recon missions. The system's laser can also designate targets for guided munitions. While ASTAMIDS isn't currently as accurate as ground-based detectors, with upcoming technological improvements the system is expected to be able to operate at higher altitudes in less than ideal conditions and detect a wider array of items -- from obstacles to camouflaged vehicles.
The $US123 million ASTAMIDS program is still in development but was successfully tested aboard the Fire Scout back in 2008. Once combat ready, "ASTAMIDS will give Army Brigade Combat Teams unprecedented situational awareness and target designation capabilities," according to the US Army PM Close Combat Systems. Something our forces could sorely use more of. [Murdoc Online - Deagel - IRConnect - Defense Tech - Army Technology ]