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Surveillance has long been a key ingredient in any military command-and-control effort. Of course, what once involved sending personnel behind enemy lines to collect information on troop movements and weapons placements is now almost entirely done electronically, and is largely dependent upon advanced cameras, sensors, and video technologies.

Surveillance is now conducted from space (via satellites); with Global Positioning System (GPS) precision location data; and by means of robots, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are remotely piloted and monitored. In military endeavors, every attempt at surveillance is usually accompanied by some form of counter-surveillance, so that technologies in support of surveillance are constantly of interest to military electronics contractors.

MQ-1 Predator

Government use of surveillance equipment is expected to extend well beyond military forces, with U.S. agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recruiting surveillance equipment and technologies to collect data on suspects. In addition, the activities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) increasingly involve data gathered by means of surveillance systems. Also, the police departments of many major U.S. cities now employ wide area surveillance systems as part of their law enforcement activities.

With this growing list of users for surveillance systems and technologies added to existing military users, many research organizations are projecting sizable growth in the global surveillance markets over the next decade. Fueled by advances in video technology and more affordable remote cameras and video equipment, research organizations such as MarketsandMarkets have projected that the global security and surveillance market will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9% over the next several years; it is expected to reach a global market size of more than $8 billion USD by 2019.

Cuts in defense spending worldwide have introduced some instability to military surveillance and radar markets. But a growing need for border surveillance, including in the Far East and in South America, are expected to increase the need for radar and surveillance systems to monitor those borders from neighboring countries. Comprehensive projections on surveillance markets, in particular video surveillance markets, are also available from research firm Visiongain.

Many modern surveillance activities, including for video and audio content, rely on satellite-based systems—or “spy satellites,” as they have come to be known. Satellites for military surveillance employ a number of different data-gathering technologies, including visible and near-infrared (IR) imaging, thermal infrared imaging, and radar sensors. Satellites have been a part of military surveillance efforts for many decades, including and before the time of the KeyHole series of surveillance and reconnaissance satellites which use video or electro-optical cameras to achieve high-resolution images (in the centimeter range) of the ground.

Lockheed Martin has been a major supplier of surveillance satellites to the military. More recently, Boeing, perhaps better known for its GPS satellites, has also been a major surveillance satellite supplier. Many of these surveillance satellites are launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. In additional, Global satellite surveillance is conducted by NATO members, such as the French Helios spy satellites.

Flying with Cameras

Manned aircraft have been used for military surveillance since the time of the U-2 spy plane, but military troops are looking more to UAVs for future surveillance applications. The Pentagon recently reported that it was planning to increase its use of UAVs for surveillance and other purposes by about 50% over the next several years. The need for drones is spurred by a request by the U.S. Air Force to decrease its number of daily combat air patrol missions and have them replaced by Army- and civilian-operated missions.

With the growing number of security threats around the world, the number of surveillance flights by UAVs is expected to increase even further. The decision to add Army and civilian-operated missions to the mix was triggered by increasing military activity in such areas as China and Russia, and well as continued activies in the Middle East. China’s rising military power and island-building program in the South China Sea have increased tensions, prompting a greater demand for U.S. surveillance and intelligence in the Far East., an online research firm, projects the military drones market to reach $11 billion by 2011 from a level of $3 billion USD in 2014. According to the study “Military Drones Market Shares, Market Strategies, and Market Forecasts, 2015 to 2021,” military as well as government users will rely more heavily on drones for surveillance in the coming years. The "Military Drones Market Shares, Market Strategies, and Market Forecasts, 2015 to 2021" says next generation drones leverage better technology, launching from ships anywhere and from the battlefield should that be necessary. The drone technology is evolving: better launching, better navigation, softer landings, longer flights, better ability to carry different payloads are available.In support of surveillance and other functions, these drones are evolving with improved launches, softer landings, better navigation, and longer operating distances. In addition to surveillance reconnaissance and control missions, they are supporting ground troops with three-dimensional (3D) terrain mapping activities. The drone aircraft offer better energy efficiency and lower cost than manned aircraft for similar functions, including surveillance. The report profiles some of the major contractors and drone suppliers, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.

As an example of the use of unmanned drone aircraft for surveillance missions, the U.S. military recently deployed two MQ-1 Predator surveillance drones (see figure) to Latvia, along with 70 airmen, for a training mission targeted at improving surveillance of Russia. The U.S. has increased surveillance training and efforts in Eastern Europe following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the country’s conflicts in the Ukraine between nationalists and pro-Russian separatists. This represents the first deployment of unmanned surveillance aircraft by the U.S. military to Latvia for a training mission with allies.

The drones will be controlled from the Lielvarde Air Base. Of the launch, Pentagon spokesman Major James Brindle explained: “This temporary assignment of aircraft and personnel will test their ability to forward deploy remote piloted aircraft (RPA) to conduct air operations.” He noted that “it will assure our Latvian allies, NATO allies, and European partners of our commitment to regional security and safety.”

Surveillance markets are being fueled by increasing surveillance activities by different U.S. government departments. Although details about their aviation surveillance efforts are censored from the general public, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its Special Surveillance Group (SSG) is increasingly using low-flying piloted planes over American cities for video surveillance and taps on cellular telephones. The FBI is also working with unmanned drone aircraft and sensitive video cameras and monitoring equipment to perform long-distance observations on suspects.

Also, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also enlisted the aid of manned and unmanned aircraft in their video surveillance efforts. Also, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is increasingly using military surveillance technologies for law enforcement purposes.

In some cases, surveillance solutions developed for commercial use are being modified and adapted for military applications. One such case is the Military Airborne Surveillance System (MASS) developed by ASCC. The MASS surveillance system is based on commercial automatic dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) technology, and can support military flight and surveillance requirements in commercial airspace.

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