Intelligence: Rover Joins the Special Forces


May 31, 2006: The U.S. Air Force is building a portable version of its Rover (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) downlink system. Rover will also be modified to enable troops on the ground to see what fighter pilots overhead can see via their Sniper targeting pods. Rover can also receive video from air force UAVs overhead. Rover has been mounted in vehicles for several years, and upgraded to receive live video from a growing number of sources.

Aircraft targeting pods made their combat debut during the 1991 Gulf War, and were very successful. The pods, hung onto an aircraft like a missile or extra fuel tank, turn a fighter into an all-weather ground attack aircraft. The FLIR (a heat sensing vidcam) provides the pilot with live black and white video of what is on the ground, and makes possible precision attacks with missiles or smart bombs. But in the last fifteen years, the range and resolution of the FLIR has increased enormously. Current targeting pods enable pilots five kilometers away (above) to clearly make out armed men running around below. Such detail soon led to pod equipped pilots acting as aerial scouts for ground troops below. The pilot would spend far more time using his pod to look around, than to just locate a target and drop a bomb. So it was a natural move to provide the troops on the ground with the live feed from the FLIR. The pilots are happy to get involved, because otherwise they just circle overhead, waiting for troops on the ground to call for a smart bomb. The pilots are also of the video game generation, and find using their targeting pod simply a grown up version of what they did for kids. Except this time the explosions, and dead bodies, are real.

With a man portable Rover, the pod pilots can now work with Special Forces teams, who often have to sneak into remote areas on foot. There, the Special Forces troops depend on bombers overhead, and their targeting pods, to help find the enemy troops being sought. With Rover, the Special Forces troops and the pilots can work more closely, and quickly, at interpreting what is seen by the pod sensors.


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