The U.S. Army wants to update its optical tracking systems, some of which are 30 years old and still rely on film. (Department of Defense)
Weapons have changed drastically over the last 30 years, but the cameras on Army test ranges have not. So the Army is preparing to upgrade the kineto-tracking mounts — the squat turrets that look like R2-D2 from Star Wars, if cameras were mounted on his head.
“Right now, the current systems are not very reliable; they cannot be remotely operated and they require extensive manpower and labor to set up and calibrate,” said Col. Sharlene Donovan, project manager for Instrumentation, Targets and Threat Simulators at the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI). “And because they are not very reliable after 30 years, we have to have extra systems on standby just to ensure we can guarantee data is collected in case a system goes down.”
PM ITTS, along with the Department of Defense’s Test Resource Management Center and Central Test and Evaluation Investment Program, are conducting market research for new optical tracking systems under the Advanced Range Test Instrumentation System (ARTIS) program. The ARTIS timeline calls for an RFP in mid-2013, a contract award in mid-2014, and initial deployment by 2017, according to Donovan. While she could not provide a cost estimate at this stage, she does expect the Army to buy 30 to 50 mounts, with the other services possibly ordering more for their ranges.
ARTIS will replace a menagerie of optical tracking systems and sensors, including kineto-tracking mounts, cine theodolites and launch area theodolites (used to measure angles), and distant object attitude measurement systems. The new optical tracking systems will come in a small, easily deployed model that can turn quickly for testing ground-based tests, and a larger model to accommodate bigger instruments for tracking aircraft, UAVs, ballistic missiles, and aerial intercepts. They will incorporate multi-waveband sensors for simultaneous optical and infrared data.
Interestingly, ARTIS will improve testing of directed energy weapons such as lasers, masers, or particle beam weapons.
“Instrumentation currently exists that can be used for directed energy testing,” Donovan said. “ARTIS will integrate these capabilities onto a high-precision optical tracking gimbal for an integrated solution with better pointing accuracy.”
One key change will be moving from film-based cameras to digital equipment, which means quicker processing time and less manpower needed to process it. With film, “it literally takes days because all that visual data has to be converted,” said ARTIS project director Nikki Bui. A remote capability means that the systems can be operated without personnel needing to travel to severe areas to operate them.
Different test ranges, such as White Sands, Yuma and Redstone, have different requirements. So the goal is to have tracking systems that can be easily modified to accommodate local needs. But either way, it’s time for new equipment, said Donovan.
“The scenarios under which these original tracking systems were developed were simpler. You’re talking about the traditional aircraft bomb drop or traditional missile intercept. Now we have much more complicated scenarios and we need much more advanced tracking technology to provide data.”