IDF eyes faster processing of spy-satellite footage

The IAF is hoping that with a new processing system it will be able to interpret footage faster, and possibly even more accurately.

July 20, 2011 03:58
2 minute read.
The Ofek 9 satellite is one of the ‘mini satellites’ that are Israel’s specialty.

311_Ofek 9. (photo credit: Israel Aerospace Industries)


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In an effort to improve its intelligence capabilities, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) is looking to develop technology that will automatically process, analyze and catalog footage taken from the country’s spy satellites.

Israel currently operates the Ofek 9, Ofek 7 and the Ofek 5 reconnaissance satellites, as well as the advanced TecSar satellite, which is one of a handful in the world that uses advanced radar technology instead of a camera enabling it to take pictures at night, and in bad weather. The IDF also receives services from two commercially- owned satellites, known as Eros A and Eros B.

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Currently, the IAF trains soldiers to read and interpret satellite footage, which is used in many cases to track military buildup in enemy countries – as well as the transfer of weaponry and their location.

If, for example, a satellite detects a missile launcher in the Gaza Strip or southern Lebanon, it is then filed into a bank of targets that could be used in a future conflict.

Due to the increase in reconnaissance satellites – as well as their contribution to Israeli intelligence-gathering efforts, and the increase in productivity – the IAF is hoping that with a new processing system it will be able to interpret footage faster, and possibly even more accurately.

“Today, almost all of the processing is done by soldiers and we want it to be done quicker with a new system,” a senior officer explained.

The IAF has reached out to local industries such as Elbit Systems, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for assistance in developing the new program.

Last year, the IAF introduced a new mission- planning system to enable automated control over its seven spy satellites.

The Multi-Satellite Planning System, as it is called, was developed by Elbit Systems and is used by the Military Intelligence unit, which is responsible for controlling Israel’s satellites and determining their reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

The new program enabled soldiers to insert missions into the system, which then chooses the closest satellite, and depending on weather conditions, the one that is suitable for the specific mission.

Israel operates two types of satellites in space: electro-optic satellites, which use a high-resolution camera to take pictures of targets of interest; and SAR satellites, which use radar systems to create high-resolution images in all weather conditions, even through clouds and fog.

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