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NEWS | Dec. 20, 2010

NRL Team Provides Mission Support in Iraq

By Daniel Parry

Scientists and engineers with the NRL Marine Geosciences Division recently completed a three-month deployment to aid in facilitating the safe withdrawal of combat troops in Iraq. Partnering with Northrop Grumman, Dr. John Brozena and Dr. Joan Gardner co-managed Project Perseus to assist ground troops in counter-IED (improvised explosive device) operations.

Incorporating the expertise of the U.S. Navy Scientific Development Squadron ONE (VXS-1) projects office, the NRL team, including project engineer Robert Liang, mission planning specialist Mike Vermillion, and data processor Dr. Andrei Abelev, was able to expeditiously install and make mission-ready the Northrop Grumman Multi-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (MB-SAR) aboard the squadron's NP-3D Orion research aircraft. Additional components for the MB-SAR were obtained from the Army Space Development Command, U.S. Air Force and an MX-15 electro-optical/infrared video camera system and trackball provided by the Office of Naval Research.

Arriving in theater, July 20, 2010, the team commenced the performance of 34 flights, approximately 6-7 hours each, under the direction of Task Force ODIN (Observe, Detect, Identify, Neutralize). MB-SAR images and scene-change images were produced onboard the aircraft with the latency of only minutes. Data were collected in circular passes to illuminate objects from all directions, enhancing the ability to see objects with any orientation.

A typical circle of about 20 kilometers in diameter took about 10 minutes to fly and illuminated a 12-kilometer section of a road and its surroundings. The SAR and scene change images were available 10 minutes after the completion of each circle and were calculated while the next circle was being flown.

This flight profile was executed for more than 20 consecutive circle passes, covering up to 200 kilometers of road in a single flight while NRL and Northrop Grumman personnel performed data acquisition and image exploitation onboard the aircraft as constant imagery feeds from the MX-15 assisted in analyzing and adding visual situational awareness to the acquired scene change data.

Missions such as these are incredibly beneficial to us as scientists and researchers, said Brozena. Direct interface with the end-user in the environment that the technology is to be applied allows us to better understand what direction to focus research. More importantly, it gives us an awareness of what needs to be done in order to effectively transition the technology to the operational environment.

MB-SAR is an airborne payload that can be integrated onto a variety of platforms. The payload's capabilities include improvised explosive device detection, foliage and building penetration, change detection, and wide area surveillance. MB-SAR is a research system that has been under development for the Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. Air Force and NRL.

We initially used MB-SAR in a sensor suite tailored for counter-narcotics work in Colombia, said Gardner. We saw its value and quickly recognized its greatest capabilities were being under utilized. We partnered with Northrop Grumman and further developed the system for specific applications such as counter-IED and counter-narcotic multi-sensory operations.

In 2009, the Marine Geosciences Division also used the MB-SAR system for foliage penetration and ice penetration applications. In this latter application, the system was used to search for a U.S. Coast Guard Grumman Duck aircraft lost over Greenland in 1942 and believed to be buried in up to 100 feet of ice. The MB-SAR's L-band can penetrate several tens of meters of ice and can cover large areas in a small amount of time. This capability provides a cost-effective way to verify and engage in recovery operations for the downed aircraft. In the area of foliage penetration, high-quality MB-SAR data in several modes (strip-map, circle and spiral) were acquired over Colombia in 2009 under sponsorship of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The 2010 Iraq operation was not the first time NRL personnel worked in an active warzone. The group deployed in 2006 and 2008 to Afghanistan, for several months, to conduct the Rampant Lion I and II missions. Partnering with scientists and engineers from the NRL Remote Sensing Division, Rampant Lion I processed, analyzed, interpreted then integrated collected data into U.S. Geological Survey assessment methodologies released to the Afghanistan government, international donor organizations, private investment groups, and NGOs working on the reconstruction and economic revitalization of Afghanistan.

The collected imagery will be enormously important for seismic and flood hazard analysis, development of roads, pipelines and property boundaries, and other civil infrastructure projects and agriculture resource management, a successful and ongoing process.

Rampant Lion II objectives developed new technologies for the rapid acquisition, processing, archiving and distribution of a broad spectrum of commonly registered geospatial information, primarily to support military operations and counter narcotics objectives that also included testing the utility of new sensor systems for various applications.

Due to their success in Afghanistan and Columbia the NRL team was chosen for this mission as a recognized leader coordinating and operating a multi-sensory platform under hostile conditions. In 2008, Brozena and Gardner received the Superior Civilian Service Award, and Liang the Group Achievement Award, for contributions to the Rampant Lion I mission. In 2009, Gardner was awarded the Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE) Meritorious Service Award for her contributions to the global war on terrorism.

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