A U.S. Army team that delivers commercial satellite imagery to troops on the battlefield has been so successful with its work that it needs faster processing hardware to keep up with the increasing demand for its products, according to a service official.
The Army currently is refurbishing the hardware used by the Commercial Exploitation Teams to address both the processing issue as well as wear and tear on the equipment, according to Col. Tim Coffin, commander of the Army’s 1st Space Brigade.
The 1st Space Brigade has three Commercial Exploitation Teams, but only one set of equipment for their work, so it generally deploys a single team overseas at a time. The teams provide products from commercial imagery that can range from compressing an image and putting it into a file that can easily be received by troops without access to wide bandwidth pipes, to creating a “fly through” of an area that troops may be moving into, Coffin said during a Feb. 5 interview.
In some cases, the teams’ products need to be delivered to users by hand and conducting hand delivery from
a base in theater works faster than shipping them over to the theater from a facility in the United States, Coffin said.
The teams’ work to date has generated rave reviews from troops in the field, Coffin said. One battalion commander in southern Iraq directly credited their products with
helping to break up two groups of insurgents who were using improvised explosive devices to kill U.S. troops and civilians, and an operations officer in central Iraq called the products the best map-related information that his armor battalion had received.
Requests have grown at a level of 200 to 400 percent annually since the beginning of operations in Iraq, Coffin said.
The Commercial Exploitation Teams’ needs for mobile hardware have been reduced in recent years due to the extended operations from fixed sites in support of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Coffin said. Coffin declined to identify the location of the Commercial Exploitation Team currently deployed in support of U.S. Central Command, which coordinates U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Working from inside a fixed site can be more comfortable than doing so inside one of the humvee trucks that the Army uses on the battlefield, and can better facilitate the sharing of information with others inside the operations center, Coffin said.
However, while mobility may not be an important requirement for the team’s equipment at the moment, it may be again in the future, leading the service to build new hardware that can be used inside a humvee as well as a command center, Coffin said. The 1st Space Brigade also is taking this approach with other missions like the Joint Tactical Ground Station missile warning system, he said.
Mobility may be particularly important for support to relief efforts in places like Africa, or assisting in the aftermath of natural disasters as the team did with the tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004, Coffin said. If the Army found funding for additional hardware, it could more easily deploy teams to different locations around the world simultaneously, he said.
Another possible future improvement is creating a database of the products that the team has developed with commercial imagery of areas of Iraq and Afghanistan, Coffin said. By doing so with tools based on commercial software applications, troops easily could search the archives and in many cases find what they need without taking the time to go through the process of making a request for imagery, he said.