Army debuts surveillance system

The Army last week unveiled an electronic surveillance system that will give soldiers an unprecedented ability to detect the movements and tactics of enemy troops.

Prophet, the first new ground-based surveillance system in more than 20 years, will enable commanders in the field to intercept radio frequency signals that are constantly generated by many kinds of electronic equipment.

Those signals, like unintended beacons, can be used to track the location and movement of enemy forces, making it easier for U.S. soldiers to anticipate their actions.

"Prophet allows operations on the move, which has never been done before," said Edward Bair, program executive officer for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors, speaking at a June 12 rollout ceremony on Capitol Hill. "There are 1970s technologies that soldiers are still using, and this brings them up to speed with current threats."

The Prophet Block I System includes a signal intercept system mounted on a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle, or Hummer. The system can be mounted or dismounted from the vehicle in three to five minutes, according to Army officials.

Lt. Gen. Robert Noonan Jr., the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, said earlier versions of the Prophet system are being used in Afghanistan in "key operations" in the ongoing war against terrorism. He added that feedback from soldiers who tested and used the new system has been positive.

"Everything I hear from soldiers is that it works," Noonan said, adding that, with all due respect to the people in Washington, D.C., the opinion of the sergeant who uses Prophet is a bit more valuable. "Prophet will help us defeat the enemy."

The ceremony concluded with the first Prophet logbook being passed down the chain of command into the hands of Lt. Col. Jim Cashwell, commander of the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition at Fort Lewis, Wash., which will be the first unit to use the system.

Cashwell, who has tested Prophet, said having that surveillance information available for use in real time is the greatest benefit. He added that soldiers made suggestions that were eventually built into the finished product, such as changing the hardware configuration inside the vehicle to give users more room.

They also suggested alterations to the software, such as marking frequencies carrying suspicious traffic and automatically checking them again periodically.

"Before, you had to go back and physically queue them in," Cashwell said. Prophet's range of operations is about 40 kilometers in the desert and about 15 kilometers in denser environments.

John Pike, a former defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists and now director of, a nonprofit organization, said Prophet represents a "tremendous" technological leap in Army surveillance, but may not be very useful in places like Afghanistan.

"It's definitely going to give a tremendous ability to monitor the other guys' electronic emissions, and in an Iraq or North Korea scenario, that's tremendously useful," he said. "But against an enemy that doesn't have to communicate, like in Afghanistan, it's much less useful."


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