As the U.S. military gets overwhelmed with the vast amount of surveillance video collected by its drones over Afghanistan and Western Pakistan, it is turning to the technology used by ESPN, NFL broadcasts and TV news to be able to process and use this information. Ever since the military has sped up its operations in these two regions, it has been inundated with surveillance video from its fleet of remotely piloted aircrafts. With total 24 million minutes of video collected so far, the military has not clue as to how to scan such a vast amount of data for relevant information.
Drones are unmanned aircrafts used by the military to launch attack at precise targets in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. They are mainly used for surveillance and observation in Iraq and Afghanistan. As unmanned aircrafts, they can be operated and controlled remotely from the bases in the U.S. or other war theatres. These aircrafts are in use since 1990s and over 7,000 of them are at present in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Expenditure to purchase and use these aircrafts tops $3 billion a year.
Taking hint from the capability of NFL and other broadcasters to quickly search and play video from the archives, the Air Force is working with industry experts to explore possibilities of adapting same technology for use in the war zone. With the technology that NFL uses, one can search and replay any part of a sportsperson’s career almost instantly, said a Rand Corp. researcher. The Air Force can use similar technology to recall a snapshot of the happenings in a particular part of Afghanistan in the past month or year, he explained. Without this capability the library of surveillance data is a useless possession.
Sports broadcasters, like NFL and ESPN, use embedded text tags in video. These text tags are searchable and can later be used to find and play clip of a particular event. It enables them to compile highlights of the most spectacular goals of a tournament or brilliant saves by a particular goalkeeper.
Till recently the military chopped down the surveillance video into small clips and stored on the basis of date and location. However, advance methods developed by firms such as Lockheed Martin and Harris Corp. allow the observations to be associated with the video feeds. Videos can be searched on the basis of these observations. The new tools may also allow the military to watch the video feeds with other intelligence sources, such as intercepted phone calls.
The method was developed by Harris two years ago and is called Full Motion Video Asset Management Engine (FAME). Some unmanned aircrafts in Afghanistan have adopted an early version of the system, developed by Lockheed Martin and Harris, as a part of the test. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has set standards for the new video archiving technology. It is not certain whether CIA is making use of the technology or not.
In addition to the technology used by sports broadcasters, the Air Force is also examining system used by reality shows.