Seventy years ago, the fabled WWII British Long Range Desert Group — the Desert Rats — drove Willys Jeeps and Chevy trucks deep into the North African desert for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
These days, of course, ground vehicles themselves aren’t really used as ISR platforms. ISR technology is saved largely for drones or manned airplanes. The technology for tanks and other combat vehicles usually is meant to detect threats, to improve drivers’ ability to see or to improve targeting systems.
But what if the high-grade intelligence-gathering gear flying overhead could be mounted on vehicles? Could a tank be an intelligence collection asset?
L-3 WESCAM, which already makes high-end ISR systems for airborne systems like the Project Liberty MC-12 planes and the aerostats tethered in Afghanistan, has unveiled what it says is a virtually identical sensor specifically for ground vehicles.
Paul Jennison, L-3’s vice president of government sales and business development, says the resolution is comparable to the airborne sensors.
“This is set up to positively identify tank-type vehicles at 5 kilometers,” he said.
The company says the stabilization system is so rugged that the cameras can take high-quality images from miles away, even while the vehicle is driving over rough ground.
The base model of the sensor, an MX-RSTA, includes a high-definition daylight camera, a cooled midwave infrared imager and an eye-safe laser rangefinder.
The company argues that the high quality of the pictures means that a tank can now become another ISR asset — gathering information that can be used by commanders.
“You get a high-end system like this, now it’s got an image you can actually use, another piece of pie to tie into with UAVs,” said Mark Coppens, a company director of business development.
L-3 says it harbors no illusions that the Army will be a buyer soon, given today’s economic climate: The system is priced at a quarter-million dollars. But the firm says Canada, the UAE and Saudi Arabia may be interested in the near term.
(This article originally appeared in C4ISR Journal.)