Nightlighter to Spot IEDs at Night

The scene of an Assembly Area at Olympus test site, Cactus Flats, China Lake, Calif., Sept. 2011. The images provided by the Nightlighter show differences between day and night imagery. Night imagery contains no shadows, and NIR has different reflectivity than the Visible. The dark tire marks in the night imagery (curved shape at the top-center) is moist soil, which strongly absorbs the laser energy at 880 nm. Photo: GA-ASI

A prototype system designed to detect improvised explosive devices (IED) in day and night, from high altitude was successfully flight tested by General Atomics General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.,. In addition to its primary IED detection capability, the system also provides wide-area 3D relief terrain mapping supporting intelligence gathering and mission planning.

Nightlighter delivers around-the-clock, ultra high-resolution imagery and is derived from GA-ASI’s proven daylight-only, Highlighter electro-optic sensor system. Developed in 2005, Highlighter recently completed a very successful six-year deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Highlighter is a specialized 1600 pound (724 kg) ultra-high resolution payload flown on special mission aircraft collecting color and monochrome imagery of wide areas. The system is supported with on-board automated image processing to enable rapid airborne image acquisition , analysis and dissemination, in spotting and identifying hard to detect targets such as IEDs planted on roadsides or under the surface.


GA-ASI plans to conduct a series of additional flight tests under both daylight and nighttime conditions to validate the effectiveness of the Nightlighter platform further. In the recent test the system was demonstrated on a Twin Otter aircraft, during the Olympus Flight Test sponsored by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) at China Lake, Calif. GA-ASI is currently developing a program to deploy the system on King Air 350 aircraft.

Under development since 2010, Nightlighter is a high-altitude airborne imaging system designed to detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other implanted devices along roads and other routes of travel. The system uses both standard cameras for operation in daylight and advanced night imaging technology to collect imagery under darkness.

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  1. JIEDDO spent $11.6 million dollars for this system and cancelled the program since it cannot pass the original requirement for night time detection. Spent $11.6 million and nothing to show for, not even a Nightlighter system — no hardware or software.

    Once again JIEDDO has too much money and little talent in acquisition development.

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