Systems capable of detecting enemy combatants through walls could revolutionize many aspects of urban operations, but is this technology mature enough to be deployed? Let us consider in more detail the state of affairs in this area.
In an effort to maintain tactical superiority over the enemy in often crowded urban spaces, armies want the next generation of technology that can increase situational awareness and, therefore, combat mission efficiency.
Solutions here range from programmable communications and combat control technologies to brightening imaging systems and infrared devices that provide end-users with the means to locate and locate their own and enemy forces, as well as civilians.
However, the market is increasingly interested in one of the most promising, rapidly developing areas - technology of seeing objects through walls (STTW, sense-through-the-wall), which is currently being studied by special forces and melee units in Europe and the United States. ...
Indeed, this special segment of the soldier's situational awareness market promises to open up a range of new combat principles and tactics, techniques and methods of warfare to small teams performing special and reconnaissance missions in urban areas around the world.
In search of transparency
A spokesman for the British Army's Infantry Education and Training Administration called the emergence of STTW technology "an impressive prospect for melee units, which are currently forced to rethink their actions against a rapidly adapting enemy in various combat scenarios."
Noting that STTW technology has entered the domain of the British Army to develop the concept of a “2025/XNUMX integrated digital soldier” (with a readiness date no earlier than XNUMX), he confirmed that his Office wants to acquire one of the STTW solutions in order to explore a number of new principles combat use and tactics to provide shared situational awareness on the battlefield.
Without going into specific details about the procurement and the start of the assessment program, he said the Office will work with the Special Operations Forces to identify “new concepts that reduce the cognitive burden on dismounted soldiers” and to improve decision-making and overall operational pictures.
STTW technology could be used in the tasks of terrain exploration, information gathering and cleaning of buildings and fenced areas
Several STTW devices are currently available to the military, ranging from lightweight handheld models to large tripod-mounted sensors that are hardly suitable for MTR and melee units operating in challenging urban environments.
In general, STTW technology is very useful for assault teams, which must identify biological creatures through walls and doors before entering. Compared to the traditional blast-clearing method, the new capabilities allow commanders to make an accurate entry / exit decision, minimizing consequential losses.
STTW technology is not yet massively deployed in the troops, but its widespread use can significantly change the principles of combat use and tactics of units that receive missions to enter closed territories, buildings, premises and tunnels in conditions where the enemy often uses civilians as living shield.
The largest STTW technology program to date is a US Army project aimed at providing a solution that can improve the decision-making ability of soldiers at the lowest tactical level.
In January of this year, the Army issued a request for information indicating that the development of STTW technology is being carried out in support of the Special Products and Prototyping Division (SPD), which is its structural division. The request, drawn up in cooperation with the US Army MTR, asks for information on "advanced portable systems that allow a soldier to detect, identify and track people, animals and material behind multi-layer obstacles at a great distance out of reach of weapons."
The published document stipulates that the sensory system should also "be able to map structures under investigation and detect secret rooms, passages, niches, caches, etc., including underground elements."
Further in the document it is said:
“The DSPP and the MTR, in particular, want to get a system that will be able to track, determine the location, highlight and count people and animals in buildings and structures. It must quickly recognize friends and foes, determine the form of activity, for example, standing or sitting, walking or lying, and provide positive identification of a living object by biometric data. "
Additional requirements provide for the creation of the same hand-held device that could just as reliably identify secret passages and rooms in the structure in order to ensure its clearing, usually performed by an assault team.
Iceni's SafeScan Tactical is evaluated by European CCOs to meet their STTW needs
As explained by a source in the MTR, such a device was very useful during a sweep carried out on October 26 last year as part of Operation Kayla Mueller, when American special forces stormed a rural settlement near the Syrian city of Idlib with the aim of capturing or eliminating the IS leader (prohibited in Russia) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The US Army and its MTR also need any mature STTW technology that can perform a full-scale assessment of a building or fenced area, providing data to build a XNUMXD map of the target area using "other signals and sensors" for multivariate analysis that can be used to plan a task or parsing the results of the task.
Finally, the request for information states that the STTW decision should also identify and classify stretch marks, improvised explosive devices, weapon and various types of ammunition besides “other traps”. For example, a similar spectrum of threats was faced by French special forces, which conducted operations to clear the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2016 as part of a broader ground offensive aimed at re-freeing the territory from IS.
During the operation, the French military needed to collect intelligence information behind the line of advance of the Iraqi MTR; small groups were tasked with guarding and clearing tunnel networks and conducting ISIS tactics for reconnaissance, allowing militants to easily avoid the path of advance of French troops, organize ambushes and set booby-traps. For example, in October 2016, two French commandos were injured by a mine planted in a drone that was deliberately left by IS militants near the city of Erbil.
There are not so many devices with STTW technology available today, one of them was recently presented by the American company Lumineye. The Lux device she developed was first shown at the annual AUSA show in Washington in October 2019.
The 680-gram device can simultaneously detect up to three biological objects indoors using the built-in ultra-wideband radar, according to a Lumineye spokesman. He also named several possible uses for the device, including reconnaissance before making passageways in urban areas, combating human trafficking, detecting false walls and secret rooms, and conducting surveillance through tinted windows.
The device with a maximum line-of-sight range of 15 meters "in free space" has a user interface that shows, depending on customer requirements, the range and direction to the target in one-dimensional and two-dimensional format.
Iceni Labs, also an STTW company, has developed the SafeScan Tactical to meet the needs of European and US end users.
Commercial Director Alex Gile noted that end users are actively exploring and “trying on” new principles of combat use and combat tactics in order to maximize the operational efficiency of STTW devices in the future. He explained:
“Until now, the development of a suitable STTW handheld device to support special forces and close combat units has been constrained by various factors including size, weight and power consumption. Currently, small groups of MTRs to identify military personnel and civilians in urban environments use image intensification devices and infrared systems of various types with different weight and size and power consumption characteristics. "
However, the ability of these devices and systems to provide operators with accurate information about objects outside walls and other physical objects remains limited.
STTW handheld devices, including the Camero Xaver 100 (pictured), can be used by assault teams to identify biological objects indoors
“The alternatives include the use of ultra-wideband radar technology, although the solutions on the market today are too cumbersome and imprecise for tactical deployment. Currently, military personnel from several units are being trained to work with the SafeScan Tactical stenovisor, they should better understand its capabilities, confidently collect information with its help and exchange it with the allied forces ",
- he continued.
The SafeScan Tactical 260 gram handheld device was designed to detect object movement and / or respiratory rate at a maximum line-of-sight distance of 18 meters and a shortened distance of 7 meters through standard fire doors and internal partitions.
“Special forces use this technology to clear buildings and fenced areas, and forward battle groups gathering near a door or entry point before an assault use this device with great pleasure. We see that the device with a 100% probability determines whether the room is occupied or not, it also determines the direction, distance and the number of people in the room. Obviously, this is of great importance when the assault team chooses the direction of entering the premises, ”
- added Gils.
During testing, users typically hold the device in front of the door for 20-30 seconds and then rotate it in opposite directions in order to obtain an image with an increased viewing angle.
“We also found out that the presence of a certain number of cinder blocks and metal parts inside a wall or door may be the reason for the discrepancy in the data obtained. But this only means that users understand the limitations of the device and then adapt to the situation. "
Obviously, end users want to speed up the process, ”Gils said, noting that special forces could take STTW devices for operations“ today ”if they were structurally more durable.
Ilan Abramovich, vice president of the Israeli company Camero, believes that STTW technology is still considered a niche product in most armies in the world.
“We see certain needs of some armies for this technology, but there are not so many of them. For the most part, STTW technology is still evolving, ”he explained, suggesting that the US Army's STTW information request described above is too radical in its demands.
“The need for STTW devices was identified during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the US planned program was canceled in 2010. The demand at that time was more than 10 thousand systems. Today it is already just an urgent need, especially considering what we call the "disappearing enemy" - when enemy fighters appear from behind cover for just a couple of seconds, which implies very fast search and location. "
Camero's STTW product line includes the Xaver 100 handheld wall imager, which uses ultra-wideband radar technology operating in the 3-10 GHz range.
“The enemy may not even suspect that you have our systems with STTW technology and, being in a fenced area or in a building, will not wait to be detected through walls and doors. This technology is great for detecting people. "
- added Abramovich, calling it the most popular in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations.
Looking to further enhance the capabilities of STTW technology, end users also want to use these devices within a broader system of systems versus baseline approach, although this has yet to be explored in an operational context.
One promising avenue here is leveraging the ability of STTW technology to generate a 3D map of the target building (possibly in tandem with other sensors to produce more detailed images), which can then be uploaded to the command and control network for wider distribution on the battlefield. It could be viewed through the Android Tactical Assault Kit, which is already supplied to the US Special Operations Command and is being evaluated by the US Army.
A similar requirement is specified by the army in the STTW information request:
"All data should be displayed on the wireless tablet display using avatars / icons or cursor on the target in order to better understand the sensory data."
Xaver STTW devices can be accessed remotely using the Camero Xavernet C2
STTW technology can be integrated with artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to "improve the quality of target recognition", which will speed up the processing, learning and distribution of intelligence information and, accordingly, improve decision making by end users.
In the short term, STTW devices can also be integrated into autonomous platforms, for example, UAVs and ground mobile robots (HMP). Iceni's SafeScan Tactical can be installed aboard small “cast” robots, Gils said, allowing users to apply the technology from a distance (up to 30 meters from the target building). “From the point of view of the masses, there are absolutely no obstacles to this. But the tilt angles of STTW-equipped HMPs operating at ground level can be a problem. ”
The use of such tactics would allow assault teams to safely identify individuals in buildings prior to the “call-up,” which is typically used by special forces to force the enemy to surrender and quietly exit the building or fenced area. This technique, used during Operation Kayla Mueller, eliminates the unsafe procedure for the assault team to break through fences and walls and conduct risky sweeping of premises in order to capture or neutralize enemy soldiers.
Camero is studying these principles of combat use for STTW sensors installed on the HMP.
“We demonstrated the capabilities of STTW on a robot by securing the system to a manipulator arm and allowing HMP to approach the target and begin the detection process. The only question is whether the end consumers will want to have these opportunities or not, ”
- noted on this occasion Abramovich.
“In recent exhibitions, we discussed the concept with many HMP manufacturers to show them that STTW is just another sensor that can be installed on their robots. Everyone is promoting this idea, but there is still no really major program to support these capabilities, although I know that this technology works in some departments. "
- he added.
In addition, Camero has studied the UAV's ability to deliver STTW devices to the roof. Abramovich noted that any drone with a payload of several kilograms can complete this task, but this specific combat use is still at the development stage.
The Xavernet device developed by the same Camero company based on the Toughbook laptop, which allows simultaneous control of up to four STTW systems, has good prospects. "Several different STTW systems can provide more reliable information, but Xavernet is not yet capable of stitching together different streams of information into a common operational picture."
With the development and refinement of STTW technology, its usefulness in the modern and probably future combat space is increasingly being confirmed in practice, although a wider deployment in the MTR and conventional units will entirely depend on its cost.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done in order to successfully integrate STTW technology into advanced doctrines, operational principles and tactics related to counterterrorism and urban warfare.
But the final part of the US Army's request for information says:
"New technologies and capabilities often narrow, expand or change the range of tasks performed by the soldier, which can affect the quality of his combat work and directly affect the outcome of the operation."