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Sensor to Increase Battlefield Awareness

Engineers are developing the Cross Dispersion Prism sensor that will provide troops
superior battlefield awareness with real-time information on battlefield threats.

By Laura L. Lundin / Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass., Feb. 3, 2006 – Air Force Research Laboratory engineers are developing a tool that will provide troops superior battlefield awareness with real-time information on battlefield threats.

The tool is the Cross Dispersion Prism sensor. According to Dr. William Ewing, one of the sensor's principle developers, the CDP sensor is a passive staring electro-optical infrared sensor that allows for continuous surveillance of an area.

It will be used to detect, locate, identify and classify energetic events, such as explosions, in real-time, through an application of rapid spectral and temporal sensing.

Using pseudo-imaging, the sensor registers an explosion's spectral/temporal signature, or fingerprint, identifies the explosion and classifies it based on information compiled by the lab in a library of spectral images.

In addition, the sensor reveals the explosion's location, allowing battlefield commanders to make decisions based on highly accurate, reliable information.

"The original idea was to place the sensor on top of a pole for surveillance of a perimeter, like around the Green Zone in Iraq, or on a vehicle. "But, when we saw how well the sensor performed, the potential uses grew."

Darin Leahy, program manager

"The CDP tells the story of how an explosion developed," said Ewing. It "allows us to tell the difference between artillery, bombs, small arms fire, etc."

"We used to use only temporal signatures to determine the details of these events, so this technology offers a significant advantage over what has been done before," said Ewing.

The project began in June 2004 and proceeded in record time. "In less than two years, we have gone from an idea to something we can actually have in the field," Ewing said.

During this time, the lab produced a proof of concept, has successfully integrated the system onto air and ground platforms, and is working on a flight-qualified sensor.

"I've never seen anything come up through the research process this quickly. Very rarely do you take something from concept phase to being field tested two years later," said Jim Murrin, deputy branch chief of the CDP sensor program.

"The great thing is that we are ahead of schedule and on budget," said Darin Leahy, program manager for the project. "When we first started, we were a little skeptical about how well it would work, but, in a month, we'd built the first one, and it was working really well. That's when we knew we really had something."

Considered a wide field-of-view sensor, the CDP is a unique optical assembly that senses light from the visible through the infrared range by placing a pair of prisms in front of a high speed commercial camera (400 to 500 images per second), provided by Santa Barbara Focal Plane of Goleta, Calif.

The data is then processed by a computer and calculates a probability of what the event was and its location. In addition, the system is fairly inexpensive and needs little maintenance.

In tests so far, the system has proven highly accurate and has a low false alarm rate, which could lead to several potential applications.

See Caption.
This Generation III prototype of the Cross Dispersion Prism sensor system at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., was installed for demonstration and testing aboard a Naval Air Systems Command Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicle in late 2005. Air Force courtesy photo

"The original idea was to place the sensor on top of a pole for surveillance of a perimeter, like around the Green Zone in Iraq, or on a vehicle," Leahy said. "But, when we saw how well the sensor performed, the potential uses grew."

One primary application will be to equip the system on a unmanned aerial vehicles, which could help the unmanned aerial vehicle conduct surveillance of a broader area, providing greater visibility and better situational awareness.

The system has already been tested aboard a Naval Air Systems Command Aerostar unmanned aerial vehicle in late 2005, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., and performed well according to Leahy.

Other applications could be in missile defense, early launch detection, missile typing, and bomb damage and kill assessment-as well as astronomy, space observation and nuclear testing verification, according to the engineers.

Leahy said the lab's classification of larger threats, including foreign and domestic long-range missiles that travel 20 to 30 kilometers, will begin in spring 2006.

According to Leahy, trust in the system will be immediate. "The certainty is above 95 percent, and that allows for less guesswork on the operator's part," he said.

The system's ability to deliver a continuous stream of information is also important to coordination of the battlefield and provides warfighters a larger map of an area.

"You can keep track of where you are and, more importantly, keep track of where the enemy is," said 1st Lt. Adam Goobic, an infrared applications development engineer with the Sensors Directorate. "It also will provide exact coordinates of an explosion in near real time, including longitude and latitude."

"With everything that we have seen so far, this technology will be a great benefit to the Air Force as well as other services," said Leahy.

The Cross Dispersion Prism sensor is under development by the Sensors Directorate here, with support from Solid State Scientific Corp, Hollis, N.H., and is sponsored, in part, with funding from Director, Defense Research and Engineering.

Final testing is scheduled for September 2006 at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz.

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