WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army recently approved rapid experimentation and prototyping to develop a new Tactical Space Layer that will enable the service to use overhead satellite imagery for beyond-line-of-sight targets.

The Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space Cross-Functional Team is leading the Army’s efforts to develop a new tactical geospatial intelligence capability, leveraging commercial satellite imagery to see farther, extend the battlefield, and target beyond-line-of-sight threats.

“What’s exciting about where we’re at today is we’re finding ways to use multiple sensors at multiple altitudes — to include airborne, high altitude and even in space — and be able to fuse that data in a positive way that, again, stretches the good attributes of those sensors and then fuse that data very rapidly,” APNT/Space CFT Director Willie Nelson said in an interview with C4ISRNET.

The Army showed the advances it’s made in that area during Project Convergence 2020, a demonstration that took place last September at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. Using artificial intelligence, the service was able to fuse data from commercial imagery satellites to create targeting data, then transport that to the battlefield via communications satellites where soldiers were able to fire on the threat.

Following that demonstration, Army leaders bragged that they were able to cut down the sensor-to-shooter pipeline — the time it takes from satellite data collection to the delivery of targeting data to a weapon system — from 20 minutes to 20 seconds.

“We were trying to cut days off a process. We’re down to cutting hours, minutes and seconds,” Nelson told C4ISRNET.

The signing of the Tactical Space Layer Abbreviated Capability Development Document, announced April 21, puts the progress made so far into writing, synchronizing related activities and informing requirements for procurement and fielding.

“What the capability document does, is it helps codify our initial requirements and then guide the experimentation and prototyping efforts within communications, PNT and ISR to help us move down the path towards a program of record, or program of records,” said Nelson.

That does not mean that the Army is planning to build and launch its own satellite constellation, Nelson clarified. Instead, document will guide the Army’s efforts to use existing or future commercial constellations, as well as satellites owned by the other services and the intelligence community, and to integrate them with Army platforms and systems.

The APNT/Space CFT worked with a number of other Army organizations to develop the capability document, including the Long-Range Precision Fires CFT; Army Space and Missile Defense Command; the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors; the Project Manager for Positioning, Navigation and Timing; the Intelligence Center of Excellence; the Fires Center of Excellence; and the Army G-2.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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