The U.S. Seventh Fleet has a yawning gap in its reconnaissance capabilities. It can’t see many types of surface threats in sufficient detail to track and target them without putting U.S. warfighters at risk. What it needs is an airborne sensor that can see through jungle canopies, precipitation, haze or darkness without having to get so close that U.S. personnel are within range of enemy surface-to-air missiles. It appears that the Office of Naval Research has found a solution: it’s the MS family of sensors carried on the Air Force’s U-2 spy plane. The latest version, designated MS-177, passively collects data in multiple bands on the electromagnetic spectrum — both in visible light and infrared — enabling U.S. warfighters to quickly detect and classify a wide array of surface threats. Deployed on a manned patrol aircraft, business jet or drone, MS-177 can monitor vast expanses of land or sea for danger, zeroing in on items of interest to give the Fleet a heads-up of impending trouble. ONR is planning a series of airborne tests to verify that the sensor can fill the current ISR gap. This is exactly the sort of smart initiative the Navy needs to get better capabilities to the Fleet fast, leveraging off of R&D efforts the Air Force has already undertaken. I have written a commentary for RealClearDefense here.
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