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Air Force intel pros use Web-based remotely piloted aircraft application



WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Using existing technology, a team of Air Force intelligence experts have developed a new Web-based program that saves lives and money. These innovators will receive the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Achievement Award for developing the Surveillance Intelligence Reconnaissance Information System (SIRIS) -- a scalable, revolutionary approach to reshaping remotely piloted aircraft collaboration among ground, air and intelligence users in friendly and enemy battlespace.

Requiring only a Web browser and Google Earth access, SIRIS data sharing encompasses imagery, full-motion video, mission planning files, aircraft locations, sensor points of interest, signals intelligence and even weather, which makes it useful to everyone from firefighters to pilots and intelligence operators.

“We chose a Web-based solution that does not require a costly retrofit of the platform, and we created rapid, sustainable innovations that were non-compartmentalized,” said Stephen Coffey, a remotely piloted aircraft subject matter expert in the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Innovations Directorate for Headquarters Air Force, Pentagon.

"We found out young Airmen and even the pilots were hampered by existing technologies that did not permit a shared intelligence picture, limiting the ability to collaborate with each other," said Col. Frances Deutch, Ph.D., the Intelligence Innovation Programs director. "So if SIRIS and similar programs are how we're already doing business, why don't we ensure these applications interact more cohesively? Data should be agnostic.”

To enhance SIRIS’ capability, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Human Factors Development team expanded its Internet Coordinate Extractor program. ICE constantly monitors up to 30-35 different chat rooms and automatically plots only pertinent information in Google Earth for RPA crews.

“ICE allowed us to focus on Google Earth in the moment, so instead of looking at six computer displays, I’d look at one -- saving lives and money,” Coffey said.

With government-owned code and specifically-designed human factors, the intelligence team, in just four days, built on the ICE concept to display threat data succinctly in a format familiar to the pilots. For the first time ever, RPA crews receive visual threat warning on their map display instead of staring at chat rooms for that critical intelligence.

SIRIS beyond the battlespace

In August 2013, an MQ-1B Predator from the 163rd Reconnaissance Wing of the California Air National Guard relayed infrared images to California Firefighters, who battled a raging Rim Fire that blazed across more than 160,000 acres, leaving much of Yosemite National Park and its surroundings silted in ash and dense with smoke. The MQ-1B crew leveraged a number of AF ISR innovation technologies, including Eagle Vision, Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver and SIRIS to assist the firefighters with imagery, video and collaboration.

“Because of the SIRIS tool, I literally was in my apartment drawing, circling and dropping points for the California wildfire chief in the middle of his firefighting,” said Chris McDonald, the director of Web-Based Innovations, ISR Innovations Directorate, Headquarters Air Force, Pentagon.

The plane significantly improved responders’ abilities to predict the fire’s direction and determine the sources of greatest intensity.

Once the fire ended, McDonald and his team arrived in California for a debriefing with the fire chief.

“The fire chief was visibly emotional and told me, ‘you have no idea the lives you saved because of that,’” McDonald said.

Way ahead for RPAs, SIRIS

Ultimately, RPAs will do a lot more than provide ISR and close air support as threat awareness and threat detection emerge on a more sustainable platform, according to Coffey. “We’re trying to get the user in front of the technology, then they can tell us in a more succinct and specific manner what information they need.”

“Each of us brought a different perspective to an innovative thought,” McDonald said. “By creating a sandbox, we were trying to create a place where Airmen can develop code and park it there, and then our developers could pick through it and help them write it. So now they feel enabled and it’s empowered them to be innovative.”

Related link: GEOINT Awards