Why instant 3D geolocation will become standard in airborne ISR
For homeland security organizations that operate in today’s complex and fast-changing threat environment, optimizing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions is a priority. With more and more communication devices now in use, the ability to rapidly process data from these devices during missions is vital to provide operators and decision-makers with real-time tactical data and visualizations.
However, when it comes to geolocating V/UHF ground emitters from the air, most of the ISR systems currently in use are not optimized to turn data into reliable, actionable and ultra-fast insight. The challenge lies in detecting and geolocating a vast number of emitters spread on very wide area. So, how can ISR systems ensure both a large coverage area and a high probability of interception?
ISR and signal intelligence (SIGINT) operators should therefore ask themselves three key questions.
How can the system provide real-time tactical information?
For optimum efficiency during missions, data must be processed fast and presented visually to the operator for tactical use; and most importantly, it should be relevant. To provide actionable intelligence, systems must present processed data instantaneously via a graphical user interface. Combining communication intelligence (COMINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT) sensors with 3D geolocation technology enables instantaneous location on a digital map, as well as live video of the located emitter via the IMINT sensor. Systems must be able to rapidly provide tactical information on a single graphical user interface for precise geolocation, together with the communication intelligence and imagery intelligence sensor, so that the identified target can be tracked on the ground. Furthermore, to provide actionable intelligence, systems must deliver the big picture; detection capabilities must not focus on just one emitter and ISR systems must be able to detect various emitters simultaneously.
Is the geolocation process rapid enough?
Threat actors tend to minimize the number and duration of their communications in order to operate discreetly. As a result, opportunities to detect these threats are limited and airborne geolocation systems must be capable of detecting even the shortest communications. Let’s take the example of a walkie-talkie push-to-talk communication lasting two or three seconds: a fast processing system may detect it, but is unlikely to geolocate it. Operators therefore need a system that can detect that emission from the first burst, but also geolocate it reliably on a map.
Moreover, most current systems rely on direction-finding technology. This means that airborne systems provide geolocation through scrolling speed, which requires either a few minutes to get a precise geolocation, or several flying airborne systems to cross-reference direction-finding data and provide faster geolocation. But operators cannot expect communications to last the few minutes needed to get a precise geolocation. Besides, the number of flying aircraft during ISR missions tends to be limited for cost reasons. As a result, ISR systems now require 3D geolocation, involving a combination of azimuth, elevation and digital ground mapping, to provide trustable instantaneous geolocation.
How can operators trust geolocation data?
Experience has shown that satellite phone users can provide fake or out-of-date GPS positioning information, especially as it takes time to access the signal content and identify the emitter’s geolocation.
To address this issue, airborne ISR systems, especially C-ESM sensors, need to locate emitters via signal envelope processing so that there is no need to access the signal content to locate an emitter. In addition, analyzing the radio frequency enables faster data processing for real-time tactical intelligence.
These improvements to ISR systems will help to optimize missions, both in terms of cost and availability of valuable intelligence. In a rapidly evolving threat landscape, operators need innovative solutions that predict and therefore minimize risk to ensure national security.
Posted on March 18, 2020 by Marc Houry and Amélie Troussel
About Marc Houry
Marc Houry is Avantix head of product management. Marc spent the last 18 years in the aeronautic, defense and security market dealing with various products such as electronic warfare, military and civil helicopter and mission critical system for public safety.
About Amélie Troussel
Amélie Troussel is Avantix marketing manager. Amélie supports Avantix market awareness by working on content marketing, event management and marketing collaterals development.