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Combat Camera’s Battlefield Images Help Set U.S. War Strategy

The U.S. Department of Defense has at its command a loosely organized unit of photographers and videographers from the all the services who supply the top military leadership with images that help determine wartime strategy.

The U.S. Department of Defense has at its command a loosely organized unit of photographers and videographers from the all the services who supply the top military leadership with images that help determine wartime strategy.

Combat Camera, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Douglas Houser, the officer in charge of COMCAM, is a “low-density, high-demand force” comprising photographers and videographers who provide the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, combatant commands, joint task forces and services with directed imagery to support operational planning, public affairs, information warfare, mission assessment and other requirements during crises, contingencies and exercises around the globe.

The service members receive general photographic training at the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Md., followed by specialized photography training conducted by their respective services that reflect the missions of each service, Houser said. For example, the Air Force trains designated flyers in photography, while Marine Corps photographers might go to jump school and Navy sailors to dive school.

Once that training is completed, COMCAM photographers and videographers can be embedded with combat units, so it is not uncommon for those troops to put down their cameras and pick up their weapons to join their units in firefights, Houser said.

“They have to be able to ‘run and gun’ with these guys, so it’s important they are physically capable of doing that,” he said. “When to do that can’t be taught in the classroom.”

When COMCAM troops are deployed with a unit, those photographers and videographers cannot become a liability to that unit as it conducts operations, Houser said. During an operation, a unit’s troops will have the COMCAM trooper’s back; the videographer is expected to do the same for the unit. If the COMCAM member falls short of that, the videographer becomes a liability. “If they are a liability, the unit doesn’t want them,” he said.

However, while COMCAM troops are expected to fulfill a combat role when needed, their primary job—even when at the front—is to record images.

Panasonic’s AG-HPX250 Panasonic offers its AG-HPX250 P2 HD, lightweight, handheld camcorder to do that job. The AG-HPX250 has master-quality 10-bit, 4:2:2 independent-frame, and 1920 x 1080 resolution AVC-Intra 100 recording, according to the company.

In addition, the AG-HPX250 is an ergonomic-designed camcorder incorporating highsensitivity 1/3 inch, full-HD 2.2 megapixel 3-MOS imagers and a 20-bit digital signal processor to capture high-resolution images, Panasonic said. The AG-HPX250 is equipped with professional features like genlock, timecode, high-definition serial digital interface (HD-SDI) and HD multimedia interface (HDMI ) input/outputs for multi-camera operation and monitoring, as well as a color viewfinder. It is outfitted with a 22x wide zoom (28 millimeter to 616 millimeter) HD lens with three independent adjustable rings (zoom/focus/iris). The 22x lens also features an optical image stabilizer (OIS) function that ensures stable images during hand-held shooting.


Exelis’ TMNVG – i-Aware Tactical While COMCAM is a vital method of gathering battlefield video, it is not the only method for collecting video. The military is using cutting edge technologies to collect and process video. These technologies include:


Exelis offers its TMNVG – i-Aware Tactical, a night vision and imaging system that enables the trooper to import and export video, still photos and map information into and out of night-vision goggles, said David Smith, the firm’s vice president of programs and business development.

The i-Aware transforms the soldier from being a standalone sensor to enabling the service member to connect in and move information around the digital battle space, he said.

Currently, if troops want to communicate, they talk over their radio systems, Smith said. The i-Aware Tactic enables troops to tie into their radio system and display the information so they maintain downrange situational awareness but not compromise a position by speaking or texting information back to their command, he said. The user controls the flow of information and can receive and disseminate information on the fly if needed, he said. If the user does not want to be disrupted, the feature can be deactivated.


General Dynamics Mediaware’s Digital Video Exploitation System General Dynamics Mediaware offers its Digital Video Exploitation System (D-VEX), which manages battlefield video turning footage into “actionable intelligence” that can be used by troops in the field, said Kevin Moore, the company’s chief technology officer overseeing the D-VEX system.

Because of an abundance of video sensors in the Afghan battlefield, actionable video is making its way to the command posts and being used to direct battle plans, Moore says. However, not long ago unmanned aerial vehicles were producing so much video from both Afghanistan and Iraq there were not enough military analysts to review it all.

The D-VEX system has the ability to record video, view it in real time, index the video, take snap shots and produce very simple intelligence reports, Moore says. In addition, D-VEX has a range of video exploitation tools that enable users to conduct measurements directly on the video and adjust the quality of the video, thereby making it easy for users to extract the information that is important. D-VEX runs on standard hardware, including on ruggedized laptops; all that is needed is a video feed over the Internet.

Those tools enable D-VEX to capture one or more video streams directly in analog, uncompressed or compressed digital formats. The capture subsystem supports MPEG-2 and H.264/ AVC video in standard or high-definition resolutions. Where available, platform and sensor telemetry data are captured and encoded into key-length-value (KLV) metadata and aligned and multiplexed into the video.


HDT Global’s Expeditionary Systems Video Display System The HDT Global Expeditionary Systems video display system (VDS) is a mobile system that displays video on screens and its “commander’s table” where field commanders can interact with video or live feeds, said Roger Dangerfield, the company’s command and control system’s representative. The Expeditionary Systems’ commander’s table takes the place of the old sand table. Commanders can draw on video to determine where to deploy troops, where the danger areas are and the locations of friendly troops, he said. The Expeditionary Systems enables commanders to interact with and share information with personnel in the battlefield.

In addition, the VDS is designed to be deployed in “expeditionary environments” where durability, weight, size, setup and take-down time, as well as quality of visual presentation, are all factors, Dangerfield said. Each VDS weighs 88 pounds, including the carrying case, and can be set up in about five minutes, he said.


Northrop Grumman offers its SoldierLink system, which can push full-motion video to the dismounted trooper, said Kevin Anastas, the company’s Army account manager. The SoldierLink system is a commercial smartphone with a protective case—called “the battle sleeve”—that ruggedizes the unit, he said. SoldierLink offers tremendous bandwidth enabling several channels of full-motion video to be available, he said. “That’s a value for dismounted soldiers.”

Northrop Grumman’s SoldierLink System A smartphone can be used as a source camera, or other cameras—mounted on a vehicle or unmanned aerial vehicle, or handheld—can be designated as the source of the video, Anasta said. SoldierLink uses the “mesh net radio” approach, which works like any mesh network, Anastas said. As long as one radio can see the next one, the network can be extended through rough terrain for as long as there are nodes that create “line of sight,” he said. That can provide “situational awareness” advantages to a leader of ground troops entering a dangerous situation, he said.


QinetiQ offers its Tactical Robotic Controller (TRC), a

QinetiQ’s Tactical Robotic Controller wearable system that enables a warfighter to direct a family of unmanned aerial, ground or maritime vehicles, as well as receive data from unattended ground sensors, said Charles Dean, the company’s director of business development. The TRC makes that information— including video—from those sources available to the warfighter on the ground, he said.

The TRC system weights eight pounds, and it enables the user to drive all types of unmanned vehicles providing users with “a huge capability,” Dean said. While there are smaller controllers— such unmanned vehicles can be controlled with a smartphone—the screens are much smaller, he said. They can get too small for the digital mapping needed in order for warfighters to read, and interpret, the map or image, he said. “In a life or death situation,” warfighters do not want an image to be too small to be able to discern what is in the image, he added.


Raytheon offers the Raytheon Advanced Tactical System (RATS), which enables front-line users to get intelligence back to an operating base or command post, said Brian Urch, director of that system. RATS is coupled with an Android device that enables users to receive intelligence. “Edge users” can gather intelligence on their own by using the phone camera to record images and video and send it back a command post, he said.

The Raytheon Advanced Tactical System (RATS) There is also an option for using Bluetooth helmet-mounted cameras to stream video to the phone, which in turn transmits the footage to the command post where the commanders can see what their troops are seeing, Urch said. In order to prevent such video from being viewed by others, RATS has built-in security. The security level for that data and video is at the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 140-2, (FIPS140-2) level. The U.S. government computer security standard is used to accredit cryptographic modules. The data on a RATS is encrypted while both “at rest and in transit, so the troops do not have to worry about being compromised when sending text messages and photos,” he said.


Canon U.S.A.’s RadPRO Portable
Digital X-ray System
The danger faced by front-line troops is such that Canon U.S.A. has worked with the Army’s biomedical engineering staff at Fort Detrick, Md. for six years to develop the RadPRO Portable Digital X-ray System, said Sheila Gilmore, the company’s national sales manager. The long development time was necessary to ensure military-grade performance, she added.

The RadPRO system had to be wireless. There is no requirement to develop film; and the system produces an X-ray image within three seconds, making for quick diagnoses, Gilmore said. It can be deployed at forward medical facilities and has been deployed in limited numbers in Afghanistan, as well as on humanitarian missions on the USS Comfort (a Navy medical ship), she said. The RadPro system is provided in varying configurations; the medical table being used will determine the configuration, she said.


Canon U.S.A.:


General Dynamics Mediaware:

HDT Global:

Northrop Grumman: