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ROVER Gives Joint Force New Vision

Pilots in the sky and JTACs on the ground see the same images - and even better, "the pilots can look exactly where we need them to look," said Staff Sgt. Justin Cry, a Shaw JTAC who's used the system in both Iraq and New Orleans.

Washington (AFPN) Dec 20, 2005
"ROVER" is an unimpressive piece of equipment. But one Air Force officer swears it's the link to the Air Force's future in communications - where the Xbox generation meets real-time battle.

"You can't get any simpler than this - a laptop with a bunch of antennas and cables," said Lt. Col. Gregory E. Harbin, of the 609th Combat Operations Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. "Yet, the ROVER is bringing a phenomenal capability to our people on the ground."

ROVER - the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver - is a system that has proven vital in both combat and humanitarian missions.

Cameras mounted on aircraft collect images and send them as full-motion streaming video to the systems carried by ground forces. The real-time imagery provides joint terminal attack controllers an aerial view of what is happening in an area before and after they call in close air support.

Pilots in the sky and JTACs on the ground see the same images -- and even better, "the pilots can look exactly where we need them to look," said Staff Sgt. Justin Cry, a Shaw JTAC who's used the system in both Iraq and New Orleans.

"I can circle an area on my screen, drawing arrows for emphasis, and what I'm drawing appears on (the pilots') screens as well," he said.

It's simple technology that's existed for years. It took young Airmen on the ground asking a lot of questions to bring it to the field.

"It's the Xbox generation," Colonel Harbin said. "When I took the earlier systems into the field, not only did these young men learn how to use them quickly, but they started making lists of improvements." The colonel said they started "asking questions like, 'Can it do this' and 'Why can't I do that?' It was their inputs that made ROVER what it is today."

Though created for combat, ROVER has proven its lifesaving capabilities, too.

A few months ago, Iraqi civilians called in reports of a suspicious group of people gathering at a soccer field. Instead of sending troops into a potentially dangerous situation, the Air Force sent up an aircraft with a camera, which flew over and captured real-time video of the group.

"It turned out to be a group of Iraqi schoolchildren playing soccer," Colonel Harbin said. "We were able to check it out without injuring anyone or putting anyone's life at risk."

The ROVER was also used in search-and-rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Perched on a New Orleans hotel roof, cameras captured video images for responders to use in their search for survivors.

"A lot of the civilian emergency teams were very impressed with the ROVER," Colonel Harbin said. "This is something that has a lot of appeal both in the military and in civilian circles."

Sergeant Cry said the appeal helps strengthen relationships within the joint warfighting environment, too.

"Oh, the Marines can't get enough," he said of his experiences in Iraq. "They know we're going to lead the aircraft directly to the target."

The Army has also seen the ROVER in action, Sergeant Cry said.

"It's only a matter of time before the services are all linked together," he said.

Colonel Harbin said he wouldn't be surprised if ROVER becomes a common word in Air Force terminology.

"This is a tool that lets Airmen use all the assets available to them in the field, and it gives commanders more information before they have to make important decisions," he said. "The Air Force has put this technology out there, and it simplifies the process of putting bombs on targets, and it's saving lives, too.

"It's truly changing the face of war-time technology," he said.

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