Taliban warfighters aren’t nearly the biggest threat to US forces in Afghanistan, it’s the nastly explosive presents they leave behind. But rather than simply reinforce some Humvees and hope for the best, General Atomics has developed a system to spot IEDs from a mile away, day or night.
This high-altitude Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) system utilizes a suite of ultra-high resolution sensors and night imaging devices mounted on the belly of a reconnasaince aircraft and used to identify IEDs and other hazards embedded along roads and trails. The Current Nightlighter system has been derived from the earlier Highlighter program that GA has been working on since 2005 and that has been employed throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Highlighter system, a 1600-pound airborne electro-optical sensor package integrated into a C-12 aircraft, is designed to not only search for immediate threats like implanted IEDs, but also produce high-quality terrain maps that can provide essential intel for upcoming missions.
During sweeps, the Highlighter system generates wide-area images in both colour and monochrome using its WFOV cameras. On-board image processing software automatically scans these images for potential mined threats and, if it gets a hit, a trained imagery analyst (also on-board) will verify the threat and disseminate that information to nearby ground troops over encrypted UHF/VHF voice and data lines.
While the Highlighter system proved effective at spotting explosive threats during daylight hours, the system was essentially useless whenever the sun set. To augment the Highlighter’s capabilities, GA integrated high-resolution night vision sensors into the suite. “Identifying and defeating IEDs before they detonate is one of today’s most pressing ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance] challenges,” said Dr. Michael Perry, vice president, Reconnaissance Systems Group, GA-ASI. “Nightlighter’s ultra high-resolution imagery not only detects IEDs in day or night, but also can be processed rapidly into precision, wide-area, three-dimensional relief maps of terrain and structures that are of high value to both mission planners and the warfighter.”
The Nightlighter prototype recently completed flight testing aboard a Twin Otter aircraft at China Lake, Ca. The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat organisation (JIEDDO) helped sponsor the event, the Olympus Flight Test. Should the Nightlighter pass further upcoming trials, it will eventually be adapted for use aboard the King Air 350 aircraft. [Defense Systems – GA-ASI – Defense Update – Embedded Military]