Defense Applications for Digital Video

Computer-based digital video is an efficient, effective, and powerful communication tool. For that reason, live (real-time) video display on computer workstations has been quickly adopted for defense applications. New technologies for digital video support fast video storage, retrieval, editing, and manipulation to enhance existing applications and bring new applications to the desktop which used to be impossible or required rooms full of equipment to perform.

The advent of open systems, compression standards such as JPEG, and commercial off-the-shelf software solutions has created a marketplace with digital video solutions for defense applications. With current video technology, digital video applications that were once slow and expensive or low quality, are now fast (real-time), high quality, and affordable. The adoption of standards has reduced costs. And the investment in software development tools by companies like Parallax has reduced the time to market for new applications. These capabilities are being applied to enhance defense programs and deployed as an integral part of new programs such as the United States Air Force Workstation and Navy TAC-4 programs.

Remote Surveillance

Remote surveillance of battlefields and critical sites such as missile sites and munitions plants is essential to defense. ISAR (inverse synthetic apeture radar) data recorded aboard surveillance aircraft as calibrated video takes nearly 20 minutes per still image to transmit to land or shipboard based analysis workstations. This makes a very cumbersome identification and decision-making tool.

With the addition of Parallax digital video hardware and software, operators can capture and compress high quality ISAR images at up to 30 frames per second in real time. That compressed data can be encrypted, transmitted, received, analyzed, and confirmed in a fraction of the time required by the former process. Follow-up analysis can be performed by viewing high quality video from hard disk, fast-forwarding, reversing, stepping through a frame- by-frame, decompressing and analyzing images, and treating the Motion-JPEG compressed video as if it were on a VCR or laser disk player. Still images can be captured while the video is displaying at 30 frames/second and put in other windows and/or saved as image files for analysis and image processing. The addition of standard and comparatively inexpensive real-time video digitization capability provides a far more effective image identification tool requiring less time for capture and transmission while providing more high quality images for analysis.

Unmanned Vehicles

Unmanned vehicles including aerial, submersible, and land vehicles are now extensively used for battlefield and intelligence surveillance. These unmanned vehicles or "drones" gather useful data without risking lives. Unmanned vehicles (also known as Remotely Piloted Vehicles) gather and transmit video data for navigation, observation, intelligence analysis, and command and control decision-support.

Many defense organizations use unmanned vehicles, including the United States Army, United States Customs, a joint French/German effort (BREVAL), and the Joint Israeli Ministry of Defense. Both video and "down converted" radar signals are transmitted and displayed on a land based Command Console. The analog video data from the plane is encoded and transmitted or, through the use of custom digital interfaces, digitized and encrypted, then transmitted. Transmission through satellite can send video data to remote command centers at the same time it is sent to field analysts and officers. Workstation systems for unmanned vehicles usually require custom integration and specialized software.

Bomb Damage Assessment

When bombs are dropped, military commanders need to know if the target was destroyed or damaged, and to what degree. Air force bombers have video cameras observing the bomb trajectory, the target, and what happens as the bomb hits. Analysts study this video data to see if the target was hit and damaged. Analysts need the ability to capture high quality digital video to disk, review it frame-by-frame. Graphics over video capabilities are helpful for marking the target area and adding captions.

Intelligence Analysts: CNN in a Window

With Cable News Network's success at often being the first at the scene of significant events for defense, the ability to display "CNN in a window" is a desirable feature for many intelligence analysts' workstations. Analysts also monitor news broadcasts from around the world. In some cases, analysts need to capture and store still images or motion video from the broadcasts for detailed analysis, image processing, captions, and translations. With Parallax XVideo and XVideo Xtra, analysts can monitor two channels at once, and capture motion video to disk in real-time. It is also possible to have multiple audio tracks with a video clip for original language plus translation, or for several levels of security clearance.

Command and Control

Workstations for command and control applications must display a wide variety of data types, including many forms of video such as video camera output, surveillance video recordings, radar, FLIR (infra-red) and other sensor output. Officers and analysts access video from databases (see below), and video conference to make rapid, well-informed decisions (see below).

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is used for defense command, control, and intelligence applications. Desktop video conferencing joins officers and analysts as they work in their offices-- on ships, in battlefield intelligence centers, at the Pentagon. A group of people can communicate, sharing opinions via live video and audio, with still images, intelligence video clips, and live video from remote sources. Participants can also share and jointly mark-up documents and an on-screen "Shared Whiteboard." Video conferencing supports well-informed and timely decision-making, and reduces the need for the delay and expense of travel. Video conferencing is particularly important for defense applications where coordination and communication between geographically separated organizations is critical. The quality of video conferencing varies widely from low-resolution to near-TV quality. If the application relies on high-quality images, high-quality video is required. The United States Air Force and Navy use Parallax video for AFWS, TAC-4, and TAC-JW program workstations (TAC-JW uses Parallax video with Paradise Software's Simplicity video conferencing software). High quality video transmissions may be sent via satellite, LANs, and WANs.

Video conferencing is also used by defense organizations for telemedicine, where a medical expert can help medical personnel in the field by providing advice as needed. Without the delay and expense of transporting the expert, her knowledge can help save more lives. For telemedicine, video conferencing is often joined with transmission of digital images and video such as x-rays, angiograms, endoscopic video, and ultrasound.

Video Briefings: Video Editing and Production

The availability of 16-bit digital audio on workstations, combined with digital video capability makes possible the rapid translation and distribution of foreign broadcast video. Translators can use one 8-bit audio channel for native language, the other for translation--all synchronized with compressed video. The translated video can reside as digital data on a "video server" for distribution across LAN or WAN, or can be converted back to analog video tape for distribution.

Since video is used so much in intelligence, sometimes it is important that some of the information be distributed to an audience not necessarily cleared to view the entire content of the video. In such cases, an analyst can digitize the video, perform image processing to remove the classified portion of the video, then send the de-classified information to the specified audience, via database storage and computer network or via analog video tape. Compared to analog methods, digital video editing supports much faster dissemination of critical information. (For methods of distribution, see Image/Video Databases section.)

The production of briefings can be time-consuming, manpower- intensive, and expensive, but multimedia workstations and multimedia authoring software make it possible to combine digital audio and video with scanned or word-processed text and graphics, and rolled into a presentation for distribution via computer, videotape, or large-screen projection. What could formerly only be done in a million dollar production studio can now be done on the desktop and affordably.

Video/Multimedia Databases

Through digitization and compression, still video images, digital video movies, audio, and other data can reside in an image/video database on a server or in a local database. Someone who needs the data can directly access the information or contact an MIS operator via videoconferencing or shared screen/whiteboard to request the information. The requestor may request a specific image or clip, or ask for everything regarding a particular subject, individual or event. The MIS operator can then query the database, bring up samples to the screen which is simultaneously viewed by the requestor. The requestor then indicates which data fulfills his requirements. The compressed image/video data can then be e-mailed or transmitted to the requestor.

Computer-Based Training

Computer based training is a very effective and powerful tool which delivers information in the form of text, graphics, audio, and video to students--on demand when training is needed--without the requirement for expensive travel for students or training personnel. The digital video used in the training applications can be stored as a combination of still image files, digital video clips on hard disk, and analog video clips on laser disk or video tape. To create the training applications, course developers can use multi-media authoring and database software packages for the creation of interactive training courses. The United States Air Force has deployed over 700 desktop multimedia trainer workstations for the Sentinel Aspen and Sentinel Bright programs, using Parallax video.

Mission Planning and Simulation

Though some commercial software is available, systems for mission planning and simulation are usually complex integration efforts. These workstations use digital video for the display of map data (from video disk or digital files) and actual video footage of landscapes as a part of their simulations. The United States Air Force used MSSII, a Mission Planning program for pilots, with Parallax video to prepare reactivated reserve pilots for Desert Storm.

GIS Mapping Systems

The United States Department of Defense has sponsored a program to develop a GIS Optical Disk Mapping Solution. This integration of commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software provides the tools and capability to extract information from a mapping and data retrieval package to be used as presentation materials for briefings. The user can access raster images from the mapping application and combine them with text, graphics, video, and audio. Users can then query and retrieve characteristics and parameter information, and view and save video footage. This information may be broadcast across the network as real-time video display or sent to a film recorder to make 35mm slides.


Although there will always exist the need for some specialized integration, much of the expensive custom development for digital video applications for defense can be eliminated with the use of existing commercial hardware and software. High-quality digital video workstations and "plug and play" applications are available. Considering the cost and manpower-sensitive climate in defense and the military today, digital video is an important addition to applications bringing cost-effective productivity and decision-making tools to the commander's desk top, analyst's workstation, training kiosk, maintenance shop, heads-up display and command console.

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