WASHINGTON — With unmanned aircraft now collecting millions of hours of full-motion video footage each year, the U.S. Defense Department and intelligence community are scrambling for ways to make that data more available and exploitable by users on the front lines.
To date, most unmanned aerial vehicle data processing, exploitation and dissemination — or PED, in government parlance — has been done by groups of analysts who then relay the most relevant situational awareness information to forward-deployed troops. But newly available technology, developed in some cases for commercial markets, is now pushing video PED capabilities all the way to the tactical edge, and U.S. government customers, including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, are increasingly looking to take advantage, industry sources said.
Boeing Intelligence & Security, for example, has used internal funds to develop new and progressively more capable iterations of its DataMaster imagery exploitation software for military and intelligence customers. The newest generation, DataMaster 5, for the first time incorporates video exploitation capabilities that can be made available on the front lines via wireless networks.
With many different sensor platforms operated by many different government organizations in the same regions of the world, it was important for DataMaster 5 to be compatible with almost any type of video data and have the ability to switch from one classification level to another, said Dewey Houck, Boeing’s director of mission systems.
“We see our customer base moving toward a more diverse set of needs, for instance, cloud deployments,” Houck said in an Oct. 28 interview. “Tactical users need to use motion imagery. DataMaster 5 allows you to go back in time and search the same area with video from yesterday or last week.”
Tactical users have less sophisticated hardware and more limited bandwidth than other video users, and that was one of the biggest considerations in developing the DataMaster 5 application, Houck said. Using the ad hoc cellular networks that are becoming more widely used on the battlefield, forward-deployed troops can search for video captured by any available platforms and manipulate it using commercial hardware like the Apple iPad, Houck said.
The most widely deployed full-motion video software is the Multi-Int Analysis and Archive System (MAAS) developed by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Fairfax, Va. The software was first made available more than 15 years ago, and the company has steadily been adding capabilities that are requested directly by the analysts that use it, said Michael Manzo, the company’s director of motion imagery products.
“MAAS is built for the analysts by the analysts,” Manzo said in an Oct. 27 interview. “Various intelligence community and Defense Department constituents come and discuss emerging requirements on a monthly basis. What emerges is a tool that’s based on the most up to date needs of the community, with updates about every three months.”
General Dynamics is now working on a new version of the software dubbed Tactical MAAS and hopes to field a test version by January.
“What we’re seeing is the need [by tactical users] to have the same types of tools that are deployed at an enterprise level — and my definition here is the intelligence community’s PED cells that are remote and not in theater. There is a pull from the troops to get that information and do that analysis locally, so we’re taking the lessons learned at the national level and scaling them down for use by the tactical warfighter.”
One problem that stands in the way of getting full-motion video to deployed forces is that most data networks were not designed to stream video, according to Fred Poole, director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs at Harris Corp. So in addition to needing software exploitation tools, network hardware that is better suited for pushing video data is needed in many cases, he said in an Oct. 27 interview.
Melbourne, Fla.-based Harris since 2005 has been providing its government customers with a product dubbed Full-motion Asset Management Engine (FAME), a software and hardware capability based on systems developed for the broadcast television industry. Harris recently completed development of the FAME 3.0 system, which is a more software-focused product designed to meet the needs of resource-constrained tactical users.