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U.K. Eyes Improved Counter-IED Capabilities

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U.K. Eyes Improved Counter-IED Capabilities


By Robert Wall



The U.K.’s effort to upgrade the Astor ground-surveillance aircraft to enhance detection of improvised explosive devices (IED) is one in a series of equipment upgrades European militaries plan to bolster their military presence in Afghanistan.


The effort comes as the debate over the course ahead in Afghanistan continues in many European countries, signaled most starkly by the formal end of the Dutch participation in the operation on Aug. 1.


The U.K. has been operating the R1 Sentinel Airborne Standoff Radar (Astor) and supporting ground forces by monitoring routes that logistics convoys have to pass through, in some cases augmenting their own sensors with unmanned aircraft. U.K. military officials note that includes forensic analysis to determine where insurgents have come from or headed after an attack.


The ground moving target indicator capability also has been used to help alert ground personnel to the potential presence of IEDs. So far, however, that has concentrated on monitoring ground movements and, when locals notably avoid an area, alert troops on the ground about a potential threat at that location.


But further, more sophisticated technical steps are in the works, including using the synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to conduct change detection analysis on the fly. Under such a system, Astor would be used to detect small changes in the ground to alert troops about the potential emplacement of an IED. The Royal Air Force recently conducted trials of this capability at the Salisbury Training Area. The initial SAR system could not perform that function, but with software advances, change detection “is developing,” says a ground operations officer who had deployed with the R1 Sentinel in support of Afghanistan operations.


The U.K. also has been flying unmanned aircraft in the hunt for IEDs, with indications that advanced payloads are being quietly operated in the theater.


On a visit last week to RAF Waddington, where the R1 Sentinels are based, U.K. Defense Minister Liam Fox noted that “highly detailed imagery provides our ground forces with the incredibly accurate information they need to detect insurgent activity and spot potential IEDs.”


Providing ground forces improved airborne intelligence collection also is on the agenda in Germany, where there has been controversy much of the year over concerns that deployed forces are under-equipped. The German parliament’s military ombudsman, Hellmut Konigshaus, has repeatedly urged that known shortcomings be rectified. Most of those concerns have focused on ground equipment, which Berlin is trying to take great strides to improve, benefiting other materiel along the way.


For instance, the German air force this month expects to field a third Heron-1 unmanned aircraft in Mazar-e-Sharif. The Heron-1s are providing direct tactical support to ground forces, while the reconnaissance Tornados, now equipped with a real-time imaging pod, support headquarters functions. Germany acquired four real-time digital RecceLite reconnaissance pods for the Tornados, and in 2012 expects to field four more. The imagery from those sensors is also helping detect IEDs using change detection algorithms.


The German mission to Afghanistan will require parliamentary renewal in the coming months. The current mandate expires Dec. 13, but equipment planners are betting that troops will remain in country in 2011, when a raft of upgrades to ground equipment are due to hit the field.


Meanwhile, the Afghan National Army Air Force has begun live-fire training launching rockets from its Mi-17 helicopters for ground attack. The helos, used for troop transport, eventually also are to supplant the Mi-35s in a ground support capacity.


Credit: High G Technologies








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