Full motion video has been a game changer in the world of tactical information. FMV, largely from airborne sources, provides the military with "pattern of life" imagery of the battle scene, tracking high value targets in real time while reducing collateral damage.
Demand has increased exponentially over the past 15 years, to the point where the presence of FMV capability is virtually assumed. Navy Deputy Program Manager for the Common Systems Integration program office Paul Weinstein predicts that it won't be long before almost all unmanned aircraft will have FMV capability.
Recent military requests to industry show the steady pace of demand. For instance, one research solicitation seeking technologies to ease the workload on Army pilots specifies that "each individual sensor will provide full-motion video as well as accompanying metadata describing the geospatial position and orientation of the sensor."
A Navy solicitation for Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System ISR takes a similar approach, including in its requirements a call for FMV capabilities.
Lately there has been a new twist in the ongoing effort to bring value to FMV assets. Vendors today are bringing to the table not just full motion video capabilities, but FMV tools designed expressly to mesh video data into information generated by other sensor systems, in order to create a fuller picture of the situation on the ground.
Layers of meaning
Commanders have faced an ongoing challenge in getting FMV to the battle space or to personnel in other supporting roles. With evolving technologies, "collaboration is the key capability change," said Steve Coffey, systems analyst for intelligence & information systems, SRC Inc.
To this end, SRC has developed capabilities to fuse FMV footage with Google Earth data, as well as electronic warfare input. The resulting picture gives a more complete sense of the operational landscape, making it possible to put FMV into a more meaningful context. "Users can now understand what is happening in the FMV and provide additional operational or intelligence value," Coffey said.
The Army has been moving in the same direction — melding FMV into other data sources — by integrating video feeds into Nett Warrior, a smartphone-based device that supports advanced navigation, friendly-force tracking, command and control communications, and other sensor-fed information portrayals to soldiers on the ground. With an additional Digital Data Link wave form radio integrated into Nett Warrior, soldiers can draw FMV data directly from any source, "from an F-16 down to a small drone like the Raven and the Puma," said David Darkow, a mission information team leader at U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC.
Integration into Nett Warrior significantly extends the usefulness of FMV data. "It's about making tiers of situational awareness for the ground soldier," Darkow said. "First you have a radio voice link, then you have dots-on-a-map capability which tells you where people are, and now with FMV you can have real-time details about what is going on in a hot zone."
In these examples, FMV data is extended either by combining signal with other sensor data, or by combining FMV intelligence with an existing war fighter platform. Army also is working to extend FMV usefulness through novel forms of functionality designed to help operators assimilate FMV data more efficiently alongside other sensor input.
In the past, soldiers on the move had to look at stovepiped data coming from FMV, ground imaging sensors, weapons systems and other inputs. With its newly developed Multifunction Video Display (MVD), the service makes it possible for any crewmember to view FMV and other sensor feeds simultaneously and in real time.
Research center SRI International has a similar program in play. Through its TerraSight video exploitation system, operators can share sensor control in a single display, strengthening C4ISR and targeting competency.
U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) also has been working to broaden the effectiveness of FMV, by making video data more readily accessible to multiple end users, as demonstrated in last summer's Trident Warrior sea trials. In that case, NAVAIR set out to overcome a longstanding problem in FMV: That is, the challenge of sharing large quantities of FMV data across carrier strike groups using limited bandwidth.
Researchers modified an existing Unified Video Portal (UVP) currently located at multiple intelligence agencies and integrated the system aboard the ship, in order to disseminate both ISR data and real-time viewing of FMV streams and metadata. "During a portion of the exercise, we streamed video from a battlegroup DDG [guided missile destroyer] back to an intelligence center ashore for 48 hours with no issues," said Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) support engineer Garret Hart in a NAVAIR press release.
The common theme in all these scenarios: The more FMV can be shared among war fighters and combined with other sensor data, the more value it brings to the tactical edge.
Lately these capabilities have been given added firepower with the evolution of high definition (HD) full motion video. The move from analog to digital architectures has allowed for the development of FMV imagery as clear as any home HDTV might produce. The heightened accuracy of this high-quality imagery affords a tactical advantage, especially when shared readily among different elements and combined with data from other sensors.
But HD FMV can be a mixed blessing, especially in terms of the sheer volume of information it produces. In a report on The Future of Air Force Motion Imagery Exploitation, RAND predicted the need for advanced analytics in the face of a vast flow of FMV. While storage issues may be manageable given current costs and storage capabilities, "making this vast trove of information searchable and accessible to all authorized users who need it presents a far more challenging problem," the report notes.
Keeping in mind the need to balance the sheer volume of data and with the need for tactical information, the military has been looking to bring further added value to FMV through the use of sophisticated analytics. Some say there is a critical need to analyze video data and ferret out its meaning in context.
Until fairly recently imagery analysts would sit in front of screens, sometimes working 12-hour shifts, watching for any activity that might appear suspicious. The process was laborious and often ineffective, relying as it did on limited human perception and judgment. Automated analysis tools now on the rise promise to make the process more efficient and also more accurate.
"It's about getting rid of the video that is not useful, the videos full of cloud cover. Then you get into things like 'this is moving here,' " said Ron Krakower, director of business development at SRI International. With sophisticated analytics, operators can engage in event query: "In these six hours of video, find me the stuff where someone is getting out a car."
Among other emerging tools is the rewind-and-search function. A number of vendors already have come to market with FMV systems that enable an operator to scroll back in time and review events as they unfold. This may give strategists a considerable edge, for instance as they seek the source of an event or the escape routes of adversaries in the wake of an attack.
Taken together, the push for shared data and the rise of advanced analytic tools promise to bring FMV even more into the tactical limelight in the near future.