The growing controversy in both Britain and the United States over Iraq's Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) has highlighted the difficulties of both gathering and assessing intelligence. The picture remains obscure but it appears that the intelligence on Iraqi WMD was at best extremely limited.
During the Cold War the two superpowers relied extensively upon satellites for intelligence gathering and this provided many coups, indeed by the time of the Cuba missile crisis American satellite intelligence had discovered the Soviet Union was heavily outnumbered in intercontinental ballistic missiles. But in the post-Cold War world, over-reliance upon satellites can be counter-productive and it is clear that greater emphasis needs to be given to alternate sources of data gathering.
Satellites will certainly remain a valuable part of the intelligence gathering process by 'cueing' interest in certain areas. But the fact they appear over an area at a regular time provides a counter-measure; indeed while preparing for the Son Tay prison camp raid in 1971, US special forces used to dismantle their dummy camp every day to prevent Russian satellites taking compromising images which might then alert the North Vietnamese.
Aerial imagery continues to be a major source of complementary intelligence from the strategic to the tactical level, and has been ever since the French were able to deduce where the Germans would attack by locating their fighter bases and hospitals during the First World War. In the Second World War, the Americans could deduce the strength of island garrisons by counting the number of latrines knowing that the Japanese were very strict about the number of men who could use each facility.
This form of imagery is even sharper than satellite imagery and excellent results may be obtained from products such as the Recon/Optical KS-146A long-range oblique camera, which is one of many products having benefited from the electro-optic revolution. A visual system using 305 metres of photographic film with each image carrying a note of the location for post-mission analysis, this camera can be converted for electro-optical use by installing a charge coupled device focal plane array to produce images of 12,000 pixels x 32 lines with the data recorded on an image sensing unit.
Conventional photographic or 'wet' film requires time to be removed from the camera, developed and dried before it can be exploited. Videotape, on the other hand, can be used instantly and has proved useful when storing images in the infrared spectrum. BAE Systems (formerly Lockheed Martin IR Imaging Systems), Sagem, Thales Nederland, Thales Optronics, Thales Optronics (Vinten) and Zeiss Optronik are among companies which produce or are developing infrared line scanners that collect images from the ground for recording upon annotated video tape.
These sensors are not only installed in aircraft but are increasingly available in podded systems such as the Terma Modular Reconnaissance Pod which can accept wet film or video-tape recording of images from photographic cameras, electro-optic cameras or infrared line scanners. But the next generation of podded systems can go a stage further, this having been demonstrated in the Tornado. Computing Devices (now General Dynamics United Kingdom) and W. Vinten (now Thales Optronics [Vinten]) exploited video tape recording to manipulate images allowing stand-off data to be processed. These are monitored in flight and targets of interest are highlighted in a special file that can be inspected, like the remainder of the tape, immediately upon landing. Eads has produced similar systems for German Tornados and the concept has been further refined by Elop, with...