What is persistent surveillance?
Persistent surveillance is by nature ‘persistent’ – a vigilant response founded on continuous monitoring. By positioning sensors in the right place, at the right time, and to keep sensing persistently, for as long as necessary, the outcome of these operations is to gather enough information about an adversary in order to be able to predict their behaviour and plan the pre-emptive measures needed to counter or forestall their course of action. New technologies based on machine learning and artificial intelligence can assist by inferring potential threats that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The military application is better known as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance – or ISR in short. Persistence is an extension of this. ISR is applicable to all domains of military operation, which include land, maritime, air, space and cyber. Of several valid definitions, the Joint Warfighting Centre’s Handbook for Persistent Surveillance defines this as “a strategy that emphasizes the ability of some collection systems to linger on demand in an area to detect, locate, characterize, identify, track, target, and possibly provide battle damage assessment and retargeting in near or real time”.
Why is it so vital?
The importance of Persistent Surveillance in the military domain is underscored by several factors. The emergence of a new generation of threats that are smarter, more capable and harder to predict, require a tighter, more integrated and coordinated response. Alongside this, the presence of asymmetric threats that are highly unpredictable require defensive systems to have sufficient forewarning to react. The USS Cole incident is an unfortunate reminder of exposure to an asymmetric threat. In both OF these examples, Persistent ISR systems are able to increase the ‘early warning’ time. Early warning is a vital commodity in the modern battlespace, enabling military commanders to deploy countermeasures effectively.
The technology response
The technology solution space for Persistent ISR is evolving rapidly. Sensors, and the platforms on which sensors are mounted, play a crucial role in information gathering. Depending on the domain of operation, platforms may be occupied or autonomous, fixed wing, rotary wing, lighter than air balloon, mobile or fixed land installations or satellite based. The JORN system is an ideal example of a fixed, land based wide-area surveillance technology.
A further example is BAE Systems’ Airborne Wide Area Persistent Surveillance System, an unblinking eye in the sky commanding a persistent watch over troubled areas to provide decision makers with useful and focused information. Ideal for large complex events such as natural disaster recovery, harbor security, VIP protection, large sporting events, and anywhere wide area surveillance is needed to help protect life and commodities.
The types of sensors used are tailored to detect the kind of information being gathered. In general, sensors will cover the important bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. This spans everything from the radio frequency (RF) to the electro-optic bands (EO), and may even include acoustic signatures. The RF portion of the spectrum is where radio communications and radar systems operate. The EO bands spans the human visible and machine visible parts of the spectrum. EO sensors commonly detect infra-red emissions and visible information (video surveillance). Autonomy in platforms has a critical role in delivering these persistent system capabilities. An increasing emphasis is also placed on coordination among asset networks. Collectively these technologies contribute to increasing the intelligence of these systems.
The vast quantities of signal data gathered by next generation persistent ISR systems will require sophisticated signal processing to analyse and extract useful information. Mathematically powerful techniques such as data fusion are commonly used to ‘fuse’ or associate disparate sources of information in order to form the bigger picture. The deep learning ability of machine-learning processes are able to sift through the large volumes of data. This forms the rich ‘layer’ of valuable information that allows humans to make faster and more accurate assessments of situations in real time. These intelligent, assistive technologies have a crucial role in high quality decision making.
Developing next generation Persistent ISR systems requires a lot of innovative thinking in systems integration – new ways of responding to complex emerging needs. BAE Systems specialises in many of the critical technologies necessary for developing the differentiating capabilities that will equip our forces in the future. Many of these intelligent technologies will have spin off applications in commercial areas as diverse as medical imaging and robotics, mining, fisheries and border protection to name a few. The future holds some interesting opportunities to harness these technologies.