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Video Cuts Through The ‘Fog of War’

From tiny robots to aircraft carrier displays, video is part of the arsenal

Video is used by the U.S. military for training and to obtain information and enhance “situational awareness” on the battlefield, George Mauser, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was with the Army’s National Training Center, an agency that uses battlefield video for after action reports, tells Government Video.

Recon Robotics’ Recon Scout XT

To obtain situational awareness the armed forces not only has conventional video cameras in its arsenal, but unconventional cameras that are attached to tiny robots or glasses that allow a platoon leader to view what is going on up to 200 feet away from a unit on patrol or the latest in display systems for Navy destroyers and aircraft carriers.


What the military wants from some of the surveillance equipment at its command is a “persistent stare” on certain locations, said Mauser, who now heads MauserWorks, a defense industry consultant. Allied forces generally know where the enemy is going to be, so there is a need for persistent stare on those locations, he said. The reason is to gain awareness of what is occurring at a location, especially the presence of enemy combatants and what they are doing, he said. Enemy activities U.S. and allied ground troops need to be aware of include the planting of improvised explosive devices (IED), or setting up an ambush, he added.

In Afghanistan allied dependency on video intelligence has increased greatly in order to accomplish missions and protect the troops, Mauser said. Therefore, there is a wide-range of video collection systems in use in that theater of the War on Terror. “A lot of the digital sighting systems on the weapons used collect video, which provides instantaneous feedback to the soldiers,” he said. “But I’m not sure where the technology is when it comes to sharing that video among the squad or the leader level,” he said.

iRobot’s 110 First Look

Mauser expanded on the problem of video overload. “Video is a two-edged sword, because sometimes you get a lot of video and just sorting through can be difficult to focus on what is important, or useful,” he said. “Raw video doesn’t do much; it needs to be analyzed into useful information. The troops need the appropriate level of information so they don’t have information overload. The trick is to be able to pick out the nuggets of visual information that are able to help complete the mission in near real time,” the colonel said.


To obtain that information, the U.S. military has turned to rugged robots that can enter unsecure areas to act as small scouts and transmit video to troops hundreds of yards away to “right around the corner.”

ReconRobotics Inc.’s Recon Scout XT is a small robot resembling a weightlifter’s dumbbell, but it is anything but dumb. The Recon Scout XT “weighs one pound, and can be thrown 120 feet,” said Jack Klobucar, ReconRobotics’ director of marketing.

Coastal Defense Inc.’s MVR-IV

“The U.S. military is buying our robots to save lives at the tip of the spear [the first in],” he added. The soldiers who are the first in operate in small fire teams of four or five troops, and they clear compounds and routes; they inspect for potential IEDs, so those troops are using ReconRobotics’ robot “to know before they go.”

The Recon Scout XT is “small, simple and very durable and that’s what the warfighter cares about,” Klobucar said. “Warfighters don’t want to be overburdened with a large robot that’s going to slow the troops down. They want something that can be deployed in two seconds and will tell them what is on the other side of a wall, or through a doorway before troops enter. They want to know if there is an IED in there, if an adversary or civilians are in there. All that information enables the service member to complete the mission. That’s our reason for being.”

iRobot also offers a small scout robot, the 110 First Look, said Charles Vaida, a public relations specialist for the company. The iRobot 110 First Look weighs five pounds and can be thrown 15 feet through a window to provide infantry and special operations units with reconnaissance from a building, he said. The 110 First Look “serves as a point-man” going first into a building, or other dangerous area where it can survey what is going on and transmit a 360 degree view of what is happening in that location to the troops before they go in, he added. “It’s protecting the troops,” he said.

The robot has a communications capability of 200 meters, so the troops can be well back but still gain information on a location, Vaida said. In addition, 110 First Look robots have “mesh networking capability,” he said. Because they only weigh five pounds, a unit can carry several 110 First Look robots, which can then be deployed into a network creating a line of communications that gives the unit increased standoff distance, he said.


Liteye Systems Inc.’s Head Mounted Displays

Robots are not the only systems that provide U.S. and allied troops with video intelligence that gives them an edge. Liteye Systems Inc. designs and manufactures high-resolution, Head Mounted Displays (HMD) and micro imaging solutions. Liteye says its display solutions feature patented optics and electronics that enable a broad range of military and commercial applications.

Liteye’s devices can be plugged into multiple signal inputs, such as analog RGB color model, VGA, or NTSC devices, said Rick Sondag, Liteye Systems Inc.’s vice president of operations. “Our units can be pouch mounted, or mounted on a soldier’s head,” he said. Depending on the application, the soldier in the field can use it as a wearable computer, which will display a mission’s parameters, he said. Or it can be plugged into any video camera system, daylight or thermal cameras, and it can manipulate different pan, tilt and zoom units to maneuver the camera.

Coastal Defense Inc. offers its MVR-IV, a hand-held unit that receives real-time, full-motion video from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), manned fighter aircraft, or ground based video sources. Designed to work over the L, S and C bands, “it gives the guy on the ground situational awareness of an area before they get there,” said Kyle Stanbro, the president of Coastal Defense Inc.

The MVR-IV is compatible with standard-issue eyepieces and can interface with a portable computer to capture, manipulate, retransmit and store video, Stanbro said. The system is modular in design and upgradeable for unitspecific requirements (to such as encoding), and works with all legacy video transmission systems, he said, adding that digital link encryption is available for all bands. The MVR-IV provides “a combination of protect the troops and get the bad guys,” he said. “It not only protects the troops, but can verify a target thereby reducing collateral damage,” he added.

Kutta Technologies Inc.’s Unified Ground Control Station

Getting the bad guys is the mission of OPTICS 1 Inc.’s Clip On Thermal Imager (COTI), said Jim Diamond, the company’s sales and marketing manager. The COTI is designed to add thermal capabilities to any night-vision device, like the AN/PVS 14, or the AN/PVS 15 night vision goggles, which are standard Army issue, he said. The COTI overlays a thermal image on a device so the user not only gets night vision, but also a thermal image, providing the user with “the best of both worlds,” he said.

“If an enemy is hiding in the woods, with a standard night-vision system you’ll see the woods, but you won’t necessarily see someone hiding behind the bushes,” he said. “But with thermal imaging the body heat of a person hiding shows up,” he said. “We designed this for special forces. It adds five ounces to the weight of a standard night-vision system and it’s giving our guys an advantage so they’re not ambushed,” he said. “This is a get the bad guys product.”


Video technology is being used on all levels in the War on Terror, with some of the most well known being used with UAVs. To help the ground troops profit from UAV technology, Kutta Technologies Inc. is providing its Unified Ground Control Station (UGCS) software system capable of interfacing with a multitude of different UAV platforms.

OPTICS 1 Inc.’s Clip On Thermal Imager (COTI)

The UGCS 400 and the UGCS 100 are UAV backpackable controllers, said Tom Rychener, Kutta’s business manager for ground control station products. The UGCS allows the user to control a UAV, while the UGCS 100 allows the user to view the video coming down from the vehicle. “It allows the user to see what the actual controller of the airplane is doing as well,” he said. The UGCS was designed for the infantry soldier in the field who can control the UAV. It takes some flight and human factor training, but only takes about 30 minutes to learn to fly the vehicle, and about two hours to become proficient in its operation, according to Rychener.

While the UGCS is at home in a backpack, Chassis Plans is producing integrated transit case systems that are being used by the Air Force, Army and Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq, said John De Leo, the company’s director of business development. The transit case systems contain display systems that are 17-, 19- and 20.1-inches, and contain 1U, 2U and 4U servers, he said. The systems are being used in those theaters for everything from analyzing video to tracking troops in the field to communications, he said. The servers contain Tesla cards, which are designed for high performance computing and provide “massive computing” in rugged servers, he said. The battlefield in the War on Terror is vast, and video with a “persistent stare” on locations is being transmitted to command and control facilities hundreds of miles from a conflict location. Such a command facility is the Command Display System (CDS) for U.S. naval vessels produced by General Dynamics (GD).

The CDS is built to the Navy’s specifications for its latest class of cruisers and destroyers, said Roger Camp, a GD official overseeing the display system. The CDS has full-color video, touchscreens, and video screen features that young men and woman are familiar with. An understanding that today’s young people are computer savvy influenced the design, Camp said. In addition, the “common” in the CDS is the same design is to be deployed “from ship to ship,” so sailors will not have to be retrained when they are reassigned from one ship to another, he said.

There is so much flexibility with the CDS’ design that it is going to be integrated first in the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier the USS Harry S. Truman, Camp said. There are also plans to deploy the CDS in submarines and in aviation platforms, he added.