AURORA, Colo.—The U.S. has introduced a tactical imagery system in Europe that acquires high-resolution imagery and maps areas of interest in poor weather conditions that can hinder the performance of remote sensing satellites, a senior military official said on Monday.
Navy Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, director of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), said that in March “we had teammates who went to U.S. European Command area of operations, to train some military partners on the Aerial Reconnaissance Tactical Edge Mapping Imagery System, ARTEMIS for short. It’s a small unmanned aircraft system that’s ideal when you have atmospheric conditions that aren’t the best for satellite collection. Think extensive cloud coverage.”
Later, during a media roundtable at the annual GEOINT Symposium, Sharp declined to say whether ARTEMIS is being used in support of Ukrainian forces defending their country against a Russian invasion.
When you don’t have geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) from other means such as satellites, “you need to be able to create it,” Sharp said, and ARTEMIS “allows you to…go out, underneath cloud cover and collect your own GEOINT data at an unclassified level.”
ARTEMIS is a turnkey kit to collect and analyze imagery provided by the U.S. federal business of Sweden’s Hexagon Corp. The system is flown on senseFly’s hand-launched eBee TAC fixed-wing mapping drone that can range out to more than 17 miles and fly for up to 90 minutes.
AgEagle Aerial Systems [UAVS] is the parent of senseFly.
In his prepared remarks, Sharp described the assistance to USEUCOM with ARTEMIS as “doing some new and unconventional things in warfighter support these days.”
“Due to this initiative, we now have military forces in Europe who can use ARTEMIS for high-resolution imagery, creating their own GEOINT at the tactical edge that can easily be shared at the unclassified level with international partners, with no restrictions,” he told the GEOINT audience.
The U.S. intelligence community has made extensive use of commercial, unclassified satellite imagery to aid Ukrainian forces. Most of the satellite imagery is based on electro-optical camera sensors but in poor weather and at night, these systems aren’t helpful.
The National Reconnaissance Office, which contracts with the commercial satellite providers, has purchased some radar imagery that can be used in all weather conditions and at any time of day to help Ukraine.
Sharp said that NGA has gotten increasingly better at exploiting all types of GEOINT, and added that “the use of these sorts of systems, in cooperation with other sensors is really powerful.”