June 12, 2008

ARCHER, revisited

The ARCHER system has been a bit of a big deal in the Civil Air Patrol world for at least as long as I've been a member. Well, last week Gen. Courter released the findings of the ARCHER review summit.

The summit attendees analyzed the missions CAP has performed and determined that ARCHER is most useful in assisting with aircraft SAR missions and it is also good for documenting the extent of tree/plant diseases, looking for man-made objects in the water, and for assisting with the secondary effects of situations like oil spills on the surface of the water. ARCHER is also good for
detecting hematite soil and other “disturbed earth” that has been dug up and placed on the surface (e.g., it could aid in tunnel detection) or “disturbed earth” caused by tire tracks of vehicles operating on unpaved surfaces. This and the ARCHER change detection feature could be especially helpful along the U.S. border or around military base perimeters. Finally, the group determined that
ARCHER is great for providing hyperspectral data for universities and research agencies such as the Air Force Research Laboratory. One point to highlight is ARCHER is very good at automatically geo-referencing imagery with a high degree of accuracy. While we have had many positive opportunities, it is important to note that after extensive testing for counterdrug missions, the experts have concluded that ARCHER in its present configuration will not be effective (without an
unacceptable false alarm rate) at detecting specific plants. However, the Air Force is studying a proposal on how to upgrade the ARCHER system so that it can effectively conduct these missions in the future.
I agree with all the points except the first. ARCHER had a lot of potential in search and rescue, but my understanding is that it failed to perform well in all it's actual exercises. I was on a mission two years ago where ARCHER was deployed, flew right over the guy and failed to pick him up. Of course, the reason was the canopy of the trees blocked the view. Not the fault of the equipment, but the lesson is to take into account the terrain when using high-tech gear.

However, it's the Steve Fossett thing that puts it over the top for me. Granted, the Nevada desert is huge, but one would think it picked up something.

Of course, I'm not an ARCHER operator. One of you can prove me wrong.
Thanks River Aux for bringing this to my attention via CAPTalk

"Zigg" has posted some interesting information about the ARCHER system. Look for it in the comments. He makes me eat my words. I was wrong. Sorry.


Zigg said...

Let's try to put this to bed real quick.

The ARCHER system performs as designed. It cannot see through things like dense canopy because it works with reflected light. Also, it is not a wide area search tool.

After the Fossett search, the Nevada IC went to ARCHER school to learn how it should have been employed on that mission.

The only time that ARCHER doesn't work as advertised is when the people doing the advertising do not understand the capabilities of the system. Blame the NHQ staff or the volunteer leadership for not communicating enough about the program in the past if you like, but BGen Courter's memo is an effort to start fixing that.

What's a Flight Officer? said...

Thanks Zigg!

That's what I love about these things...it's quite nice to be able to get all these different perspectives on different issues.

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