The U.S. Army is buying production quantities of a new Long Range Advanced Surveillance Systems (LRAS3) for use by its reconnaissance troops (divisional scout battalions and recon troops in tank and infantry battalions.) The system has been field tested since 2001 and deliveries of the production units will begin next year. Mounted on a hummer, the LRAS3 gear includes a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor (a camera that shows images according the heat given off, in other words, a thermal sight) , a GPS laser range finder system that calculates range and position of items (to within five meters) being observed, and a video cam. The visual sensors have high magnification, allowing distant objects to be identified. The system is usually mounted on the U.S. Army's high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), or used on a tripod if it has to be carried to places you cant park a vehicle. LRAS3 can spot things 15 kilometers away, obtain GPS coordinates and transmit these to aircraft overhead, or artillery units or other units and headquarters. FLIR and video images can be transmitted as well. Scouts move around in the M1114 armored hummer. But they are not looking for a fight, just some high ground so that they can check out the action over as large an area as possible. Each scout platoon will have three LRAS3 equipped M1114s. Each combat platoon has one scout platoon (with 30 troops and ten vehicles), while reconnaissance battalions will have ten or more LRAS3 systems. The U.S. Marine Corps is also getting LRAS3 systems.
Recon (or scout) troops have long had high quality binoculars, night vision devices and remote sensors for doing their work. But the long range LRAS3 can be particularly useful in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, where you have long sight lines, and opportunities to put distant buildings, camps or roads under surveillance for extended periods of time. This technique allows you to better sort our what enemy forces are up to as they prepare for whatever they are going to do. In Afghanistan, Special Forces troops staking out isolated villages or camps for days, or weeks, obtained valuable information of where Taliban and al Qaeda forces were and what they were apparently planning. In Iraq, LRAS3 would allow border areas, and isolated places (like farms) that anti-government forces favor, to be watched without the enemy knowing they were being observed.
The 3rd Infantry division took 42 LRAS3 with them to Iraq last year and used them during the march on Baghdad. The system performed very well, being constantly in use. Users did note again that the system is really too bulky for much dismounted (on the tripod) use. The 3rd Division scouts only did this once, after Baghdad airport had been taken. The scouts manhandled a LRAS3 unit in the control tower (where it was able to keep an eye on the open areas around the airport.).