European suppliers are getting into the battlefield surveillance business. American firms have dominated the market for the last eight years, by producing tower and balloon based video cameras and radars that watch the territory around American bases. The Department of Defense paid up to a million dollars for each of these systems, which consist of day/night camera (with zoom), laser range finder and designator, all mounted on a truck mounted tower or a tethered balloon, At a thousand feet, the balloon mounted cameras can see out to sixty kilometers. Towers start at 30 feet, where the vidcams can see out to eleven kilometers. These cameras provide the equivalent of a permanent UAV presence, which, just by being there, tends to discourage attacks, or any misbehavior in the vicinity of the base. The Netherlands and Canada have bought a tower based system from European firm Thales. This DISCUS system uses cameras and radar, and software that solves another problem, operator fatigue. Someone, or something, has to watch all these live radar and video feeds. The DISCUS software analyzes the radar signals to determine what is out there,
Research has shown that people staring at live video feeds start losing their ability to concentrate on the images after about twenty minutes. This problem has been known for some time, and the military (not to mention civilian security firms) have been seeking a technological solution for some time. The basic tech solution is pattern analysis. Since the video and radar data is digital, it's possible to translate the video into numbers, and then analyze those numbers. Government security organizations have been doing this for some time, but after the fact. It's one thing to have a bunch of computers analyze satellite photos for a week, to see if there was anything useful there. It's quite another matter to do it in real time. But computers have gotten faster, cheaper and smaller in the last few years, and programmers have kept coming up with more efficient routines for analyzing the digital images. Commercial firms already have software on the market that will analyze, in real time, video, and alert a human operator if someone, or something (you are looking for) appears to be there. The Thales system analyzes actions, as well as images, detected by the radar. When a pattern previously determined to be suspicious is detected, a human operator is alerted to check the video image. There will always be a human in the loop, to confirm what the software believes it has found.
The Thales radar system has a library of patterns that show bad guys doing what bad guys do. This can range from moving around carrying weapons, to using those weapons, to the particular driving patterns of people up to no good. The Thales system can spot vehicles out to 40 kilometers, and individuals, doing various things, at shorter distances. DISCUS can use other sensors (like those for motion, on the ground) to enhance the sensitivity and accuracy of the surveillance. The DISCUS systems being used in Afghanistan cost about $1.1 million each. Canada just bought eight of them.