Infantry: Extra Eyes And Ears


September 9, 2009: The Unattended Ground Sensor, one of the few survivors of the recently cancelled U.S. Army’s FCS (Future Combat Systems) program, is currently undergoing testing. The army is using soldier feedback to shape the exact specifications of the final product.

Available in two types (Urban-Unattended Ground Sensor, or U-UGS, and Tactical-Unattended Ground Sensor, or T-UGS) these devices are placed by hand, then monitored from afar using a laptop. They rely on various sensor modes such as infra-red (detection of body or vehicle heat) seismic (detection of ground vibrations) microphones and cameras to provide 360 degree coverage of the area in which it lays it lays, and  in all weather and light conditions. Anything detected is immediately analyzed and transmitted to the user. Men, helicopters, tanks and vehicles, wheeled or tracked, are discernable. Picture quality is also sharp enough to identify someone’s face. These features come at a price however, as battery life is only 96 hours (4 days) for both units.

In the urban environment, the U-UGS is used in confined or built up areas such as building, cave, or sewers. The operator simply places the unit, which resembles a small box with antenna, then moves on. Afterward the item activates and begins monitoring. Weight is 1.2 Kilograms (2.64 pounds), with a range of four  miles (6.4 kilometers). Cost is approximately 350 dollars each.

For rural settings, the Tactical-Unattended Ground Sensor provides identical capabilities. Originally the T-UGS was too bulky, looking like a long, round canister which required burial for concealment. Now, redesigned, it has a flat rectangular shape which requires only a little dirt or vegetation for concealment. The semi-rigid antenna may be replaced with a flatter multi-pronged type which provides an even lower profile. Weight is 1.5 Kilograms (3.3 lbs), with a range of four  miles (6.4 kilometers). Cost is approximately 400 dollars each.

With the current testing schedule, the product will ship to the troops by 2011. Plans are to make the devices available to all the Army’s Brigade Combat teams. Perhaps the closest, though much less advanced, sensor on the market today is the Scorpion. Comparable in size and shape as the U-UGS, Scorpion provides remote monitoring and similar sensors, allowing target identification up to 800 meters away. Batteries provide a service life is up to six months while cost is about 400 dollars.

Similar sensors have been in use since the 1960s, and the biggest problem has always been concealment. Children and animals are the biggest problem, as they are always poking about. So troops have learned to expect heavy losses of sensors simply because they were found and trashed (or recycled for parts.) -- Mike Perry


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