Sensors Key to Preserving Battlefield Edge

Science and technology programs involving sensors and other capabilities are on the rise. The reason for that support is that sensors are relatively inexpensive when compared to the big weapons systems they protect, plus, they provide protection for soldiers.

Dr. Mike Grove, principal deputy for Technology and Countermine, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development & Engineering Center, Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, speaks to industry representatives during a National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored Sensors Community of Interest seminar in Springfield, Va., March 25, 2015. (Photo: David Vergun/Released)

Dr. Mike Grove, principal deputy for Technology and Countermine, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development & Engineering Center, Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, speaks to industry representatives during a National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored Sensors Community of Interest seminar in Springfield, Va., March 25, 2015. (Photo: David Vergun/Released)

Dr. Mike Grove, principal deputy for Technology and Countermine, Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, focused on the need for improved sensors during a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored Sensors Community of Interest seminar in Springfield, Virginia, March 25.

While military sensors are inexpensive in the big scheme of modernization, they are actually quite expensive compared to sensors used in the civilian sector because military sensors must be extremely light, rugged and powerful, Grove said. It would seem convenient and logical to simply repurpose commercial sensors, but military sensors are very specialized in battlefield surveillance and target acquisition, two broad focus areas of Grove’s Sensors Community of Interest, or CoI.

GRUNT-PROOF SENSORS

Sensors used by the Army and Marine Corps are among the hardest to develop, Grove said, because they become part of the soldiers’ load. Soldiers slog through mud and snow and their equipment takes a beating. That means miniaturization, lightweight materials and use of an efficient power source are prime considerations for soldiers, as well as the small, unmanned aerial systems they carry to the battlefield.

Sensors for the Air Force and Navy, by contrast, are a lot easier to develop because there is a lot more room in ships and aircraft to place them and the weight requirements for sensors is negligible compared with the added load for a dismounted soldier, he said.

PACIFIC PATHWAYS SENSORS

The Pacific region in particular calls for a special category of “wide-area persistent surveillance” sensors, both active as well as passive that can overcome what Grove called the clutter of dense jungle interspersed with cities which are fast becoming urban-jungle megacities.

Ideal sensors for those areas would allow soldiers long-range standoff sensory capabilities. That means those sensors would need to be especially powerful. One idea that offers possibilities is emplacing passive sensors on the ocean floor and awakening them when needed, thereby conserving their power supply.

The Navy is now using facial recognition sensors that can identify persons 100 meters away. They are using those sensors to see who is coming aboard their ships, but if the distance could be increased, soldiers could use them to identify friend from foe, Grove added.

To see through dense foliage, Sensor CoI is exploring the use of Laser Illuminated Detection and Ranging, LADAR, technologies. Simply put, LADAR creates 3D-image pictures using laser range-finding sensors. Powerful algorithms are used to merge many images and separate the signal from the noise, with the signal being “focuses of interest” and noise being jungle clutter.

SENSOR WARS

Adversaries in the future are likely to acquire their own sensors, Grove said, which could in turn lead to counter-sensors, counter-counter sensors and so on. That could escalate the cost for producing new classes of sensors.

The Sensor CoI approach is to look at developing inexpensive, disposable sensors that can be programmed to do a specific task or several tasks and then be turned off or self-destruct to avoid the chance of them or their data being intercepted, as in an urban environment. Such sensors already exist which can detect noxious gases.

Sensors will continue to proliferate and the military will increasingly find ways to use them, as will potential adversaries, Grove said. There are many promising lines of research, including leveraging biomedical imaging sensors, which are now being used in the civilian world.

ABOUT SENSOR COI

The Sensor CoI is divided into three working groups: electro-optical and infrared; acoustic, seismic and magnetic; and radio frequency (radar).

There are 17 communities of interest throughout the Department of Defense. In addition to the sensor community, there are counter-weapons of mass destruction, autonomy, space, human systems, electronic warfare, air platforms, cyber, ground and sea platforms, energy and power, advanced electronics technologies, materials and manufacturing processes, weapons technologies, C4I, counter-improvised explosive devices, engineered resilient systems and biomedical.

Grove said his community concentrates solely on battlefield surveillance and target acquisition sensors. However, the various communities collaborate and share knowledge on sensors and other overlapping interests so duplication of effort is minimized.

Story and information provided by the U.S. Army
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