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Day/Night ISR Floats Over Afghanistan

April 3, 2012
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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Tethered aerostats with Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDSs) that fly over separate forward operating bases in Afghanistan received capability upgrades recently with the addition of new Kestrels. Unlike the former versions, the revamped technology includes electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) features, enabling users to have a 360-degree view of targets in a city-size area after sundown and during the day. The addition of nighttime data gathering is growing in importance for coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom as insurgents adapt their techniques to attack after dark when detection is more difficult.

The U.S. Army's Product Manager Meteorological and Target Identification Capabilities in conjunction with U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) fielded the two Kestrels for use by soldiers and other joint coalition forces. The product manager says that adding infrared features to the PTDS will give the aerostats increased ability to provide persistent surveillance and situational awareness, allowing quick reaction forces to find, fix, track, target and engage direct or indirect fire threats.

NAVAIR is involved as a supporter of the joint urgent operational needs statement requests that come from the theater. An official with the command says Kestrel enhances battlefield intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage while decreasing eyes-on manning requirements for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. "The military sees this capability as a logical extension to the current ISR packages in theater," the NAVAIR official explains.

Additional EO/IR Kestrels are scheduled for delivery to Afghanistan in the coming months, and the system also has applications beyond the military community. Logos Technologies, the company that developed the asset, showcased in March the day- and night-vision technology as a sponsored demonstration in Arizona for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. During the weeklong event, Customs and Border Protection agents evaluated the upgraded Kestrel for border-security applications, apprehending 30 suspects the first night and making 80 arrests during the week. Personnel mounted the system onto a Raven Aerostar tethered aerostat and worked it in tandem with an L-3 Wescam MX camera.

The EO/IR capabilities on the Kestrel work with full-motion video cameras on the PTDS as well. John Marion, director of persistent surveillance at Logos, explains that Kestrel gives operators in tactical operations centers the tools to conduct surveillance over a number of areas simultaneously in real time. The system also can record all events in the monitored area for up to 30 days so operators can rewind the video to make identifications or track activities. In one situation, forces were able to prevent an ambush by looking back over collected data and identifying a vehicle that signified a threat.

Kestrel's capabilities allow for enhanced situational awareness because if multiple targets scatter, the system can track them all. In addition, many pieces of data can be monitored and indexed so operators can search later for the information they need. Marion explains that Kestrel makes analysts more efficient by linking disparate intelligence pieces together while the automated tools ease the burden on them as they work to make sense of the data.