Intelligence: Targeting and Surveillance Sensors


May 23,2008: 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.

Currently, 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.

When 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.

Eagle Eye 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.

BETSS-C 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.

The towers 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.




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