Civil Air Patrol provides military with aerial imagery
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - When military, local, state and federal agencies respond to natural disasters or other contingencies, timely communication and information are key to ensuring their combined actions are executed intelligently and expeditiously.
One tool commanders have at their disposal is the Civil Air Patrol, which can use its Imagery Assessment Analysis capability to provide near real-time imagery to support a host of different operations, including humanitarian, disaster relief, search and rescue, counter drug, and homeland security missions.
CAP’s IAA capabilities include providing airborne surveillance and imagery, which is beneficial to 1st Air Force to help assess disaster damage and other time-sensitive situations, according to Navy Capt. David Fuhrmann, Air Forces Northern Air Operations Center deputy commander.
“By having CAP provide imagery to us and the user requesting it, we get the benefit of having a low-cost platform that provides live or semi-live imagery,” Fuhrmann said. “An example would be Hurricane Katrina. When they gave us digital imagery of the dams and showed there was a breach, we were able to focus our efforts on not only personnel support, but those air support assets close to that breach.”
In 2000, CAP purchased 60 Satellite Digital Imaging Systems and added dynamic retasking to their extensive list of services. This new capability allows CAP to re-task aircraft in flight to take additional imagery at a moment’s notice, according to Mark Obrien, 1st Air Force CAP liaison.
“After Civil Air Patrol has been tasked with a mission, they are airborne and the requestor has an immediate need for another image, so we call them up via satellite phone and re-task them, like we did during Katrina,” Obrien said. “When they had an immediate need to take a picture of the dams, the airplanes were currently flying. So we re-tasked them, they took the picture, and e-mailed it directly to the customer within two minutes.”
IAA and dynamic retasking allow AFNORTH to gather better information to accomplish its respective missions, according to Col. Kelley Duckett, AFNORTH assistant director of operations for airspace and information.
“The importance on our mission here is two-fold," Duckett said. "Our primary mission is strategic air defense of the United States, which we’ve been doing for a long time. But now, after Katrina, we have the new support to civil authorities. What that allows us to do is support FEMA, the state emergency operation centers, and other state and federal organizations.”
Using CAP aircraft to perform these IAA missions also saves tax dollars compared to using traditional military aircraft.
“It’s very cost effective because it’s approximately $126 per flying hour,” Obrien said. “It’s much more inexpensive than it would cost you to use a helicopter or C-130, which is about $3,000 per flying hour.”
Not only is CAP a less expensive option, but it also employs dedicated civilians who volunteer their time to perform these missions.
CAP uses two different types of equipment to help them accomplish their IAA mission. When commanders need immediate information on a particular location, AFNORTH tasks CAP to use their SDISs to take high-resolution photos, which are transmitted via satellite in a matter of minutes.
“The imagery provided by CAP aircraft gives the commander on the ground the opportunity to make real-time decisions and allocate his personnel appropriately, saving not only manpower, but also dollars and time,” Fuhrmann said.
“A sensitive hyperspectral imaging camera on board can detect and pinpoint an object or multiple objects on the ground that matches the signature,” Obrien said. “The HIS sensor is also capable of detecting anomalies or objects significantly different from the background they are located in. Data on possible ‘hits’ that match the signature can be processed in real-time, stored, analyzed and transmitted to ground teams.”
This cutting-edge technology is a great asset to AFNORTH and helps personnel make timely decisions that can save lives, according to Maj. Gen. M. Scott Mayes, commander of 1st Air Force and the Continental North American Aerospace Defense Command Region.
“The kinds of decisions I need to make at my level after a natural disaster or chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or environmental event are things like, ‘Are the roads clear so that we can caravan relief to the areas that it’s needed?’ That real-time imagery capability can allow me to make those decisions,” Mayes said. “They all fall into the category of post-damage assessment. Can we do the things we want to do where we need to do them? The CAP is an excellent tool to allow me to make those decisions as rapidly as possible.
“While the United States Air Force and the United States government have many platforms to do airborne imagery, the Civil Air Patrol is an especially good bang for the buck,” he said. “They are a relatively low-cost platform, are widely dispersed, and can get to the scene of a natural disaster very quickly. It gives us exactly what we need in terms of real-time imagery.”