Unmanned Platforms Are Smaller But Sensor-Rich

By Bill Sweetman, David Eshel
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Israel, meanwhile, continues to apply advances in sensor technology to military UAVs. One of the latest developments is from Rafael, which unveiled part of a self-sufficient tactical terrain analysis system enabling land forces at brigade and battalion levels to map, analyze and digitize the terrain they are in and prepare tactical aids for operational planning, coordination and targeting independent of higher echelons.

The program conforms to the new priority set by ground forces command to enhance independence and operational capabilities at battalion level and below. As part of five-year plan under discussion, the Israel Defense Forces seeks to improve the battalion command and control process, by increasing the speed with which tactical units identify, acquire, designate and destroy targets, conduct operational planning and coordinate complex operations while supporting tactical forces in rapidly changing scenarios.

The new system was unveiled at the Israel International C5I (command and control, computers, communications, cyber and intelligence) convention in May. It includes a lightweight terrain-mapping payload carried by a small UAV. The payload, called HDLite, weighs 1.2 kg (2.6 lb.) and carries a 24-megapixel high-definition imaging camera with 17-deg. field of view. By rapidly scanning a wide area at high resolution and from different angles, it provides 3-D images in near-real time. HDLite stores images and mission data on board and operates independently of its platform. This means it can be integrated with mini-UAVs, helicopters, small airplanes and other airborne vehicles, and operated independently at battalion or brigade levels.

After a short mission (typically 20 min.), recorded data is processed on a computer running Rafael's 3DLite terrain-modeling application. Using an automated process, the system rapidly generates a detailed 3-D geographical database accurate enough to support target-quality locations, annotated with metadata, intelligence layers and known targets for use by combat units in planning, pre-mission rehearsal and operations. .

The system converts HDLite images into digital terrain models and orthophotos (corrected photos of uniform scale). It creates detailed 3-D reconstructions of urban elements, with buildings and vegetation accurately represented, enabling rapid and efficient orientation of users viewing the area from different angles and heights. The system also implements a geographical information engine, for efficient terrain analysis and line-of-sight calculation for mission planning.

The output of 3DLite is a compressed 3-D view of an area that can be distributed to all participants as the basic terrain model (i.e., map) for the tactical situational display used for planning, intelligence briefings, reporting and targeting. According to Rafael, the model is precise enough to “target a pixel,” thereby providing accurate coordinates for weapon guidance.

To acquire targets, forward observers can employ Rafael's Pointer target-acquisition system, or Mini-Pointer, a lightweight system enabling intelligence observations and target-acquisition teams to investigate, locate and update targets, feeding them into a unit's database. Future applications may employ “augmented reality” interfaces, permitting operators to explore the area around them assisted by system images and databases.

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