Wednesday, 30 May 2012 08:22
With the U.S. military already withdrawn from Iraq and looking to pull back on operations in Afghanistan, the real key is making sure that its soldiers make it home alive. As the approach in Afghanistan continues its ongoing shift from active patrolling to more passive sentry duty, a key part of the problem is being able to keep tabs on the surrounding area.
Popular Science reports that a new system that was recently introduced by San Diego-based engineering research firm SpotterRF is hoping to make this difficult task easier by giving soldiers the technology to track movement across acres of terrain with a device they can carry in their pack.
"Situational awareness at night collapses around you and NVGs limit a sentry’s field of view," SpotterRF CEO Logan Harris told MilitaryTimes. "That’s why coupling ground based radar with imaging into a backpack unit is such a potent force multiplier."
Ground tracking in the field
According to Popular Science, the U.S. military has begun scattering small disguised sensor packages, known as unattended ground sensors or UGSs, all around the country. Lockheed Martin, the designer of these devices, estimates that they could potentially last for as long as 20 years between low energy usage and solar-rechargeable batteries.
But, for all their ubiquity, these devices are only equipped with relatively short-range audio, seismic and radar sensor and provide a limited array of data, at least for soldiers in the field.
To be able to keep track of the surrounding countryside on a more useful timescale, and without needing to build any kind of substantial installations, SpotterRF has introduced its M600C backpack radar system.
"What we do is fit between UGS and large ground surveillance radars," Harris said. "Ground-based radar has a huge 10-kilometer range - they have a large footprint, are expensive and have large personnel demands associated with their use and maintenance. In contrast, SpotterRF’s backpack system covers a 150-acre track, 1,000 meters by 800 meters wide."
Each M600C unit weighs no more than four pounds and can provide radar monitoring of a 150-acre area as long as it is propped up on the a stable tripod. These devices require no moving parts whatsoever, transmitting their data to a tablet, which can be connected to a variety of different map programs, including Google Earth, FalconView and RaptorX.
The system comes with a substantial battery, but the power requirements are actually fairly minimal, using only 10 watts of power. MilitaryTimes reports that the system can last for as long as 22 hours without recharging, and its possible these systems could make good use of field-based solar power systems.
All together, the system, including tablet, battery, network hub, cables, tripod and backpack, weighs no more than 20 pounds. SpotterRF insists that the tablet-based system is conveniently intuitive as well, requiring no more than an hour to learn, and potentially half that much.
Tracking the right signals
The biggest limitation on ground-based radar systems is making sure that they actually track the kinds of movements that soldiers might be worried about. While SpotterRF has been able to filter out some of the obvious noise like swaying trees and small animals, larger mammals can still provide some problems for the system. In addition, while the M600C can notice an upright figure as far away as 1,000 meters, a person could crawl to as close as 250 meters before the system is likely to pick them up.
Despite these concerns, the potential for a reliable portable radar system could make sentry duty in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan a good deal safer.
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