The U.S. Army has combined
communications and electronic eavesdropping gear and software, with day/night
camera towers, to produce BETSS-C (Base Expeditionary Targeting and
Surveillance Sensors-Combined). The observation towers have been used since
2003, in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now, $1.5 billion is being spent to buy 300
more towers for Afghanistan (so every U.S. base, even if temporary, has one)
and equipping hundreds of existing towers with the BETSS-C
gear and the software to run it.
the army also buys the Eagle Eye mobile
surveillance tower systems for about
$556,000 each. This is a security system of day/night cameras, laser
range finder and designator, all mounted
on a truck mounted tower. Over the last four years, the original static towers
have gotten more mobile, and grown taller. The current Eagle Eye tower is 107
feet tall, allowing the cameras to spot vehicles up to 25 kilometers away.
Great for keeping an eye on thinly populated areas in a desert, which western
Iraq and many parts of Afghanistan, have plenty of. The earlier 30 foot tower
can see out to eleven kilometers, the 60 foot tower out to 16 kilometers and 84
foot tower out to 20 kilometers. The 30 foot tower was adequate for most
situations, which usually involved guarding a base, but the taller tower also
serves as a communications relay for widely dispersed troops. The towers can be
easily taken apart or erected by troops.
temporary bases are set up, an Eagle Eye tower provides 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.
is part of the RAID system. Four years ago, the U.S. Army sent 22 blimps
(aerostats, actually) to Iraq and Afghanistan. These RAID (Rapid Aerostat
Initial Deployment) blimps float at about a thousand feet up, tethered by a
cable that provides power and communications to the day and night cameras up
there. The big problem is ground fire from rifles and machine-guns. Iraqis, in
particular, like using the RAID blimps as targets. Rifle fire won't destroy the
blimps, but does cause them to be brought down more frequently for repairs.
Normally, the blimps can stay up for 30 days at a time, but the bullet hole
repairs have some of them coming down every few days. There are surveillance
systems similar to RAID, but mounted on tall steel towers. These also suffer
gunfire damage, but rarely any that damage the equipment. It was soon found
that tower mounted cameras were just as good as the aerostats, in most
situation, and much cheaper.
turns the towers into more than just a surveillance system. BETSS-C operators
have radio links to nearby bases, and the towers in those bases. Thus bases can
call on each other for help in chasing down any hostiles spotted, as well as
using video or electronic information each tower might pick up on the bad guys.
have been a big help in Iraq, where they are all over the place. Now
Afghanistan will get the same heavy coverage, and make it more difficult for
the enemy to sneak around bases, either to collect information, plant a
roadside bomb, or set up an ambush. BETSS-C software contains many intelligence
tools, and links to databases. Using BETSS-C, operators can reveal seemingly
innocent behavior as part something more sinister, and preventable.