Darpa’s new Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) program, which enables soldiers to press a button and get remote sensing imagery of their location within 90 minutes, continues the trend toward highly mobile, lightweight and low(er)-cost “DIY” mobile technologies.
It evokes the sensibility found behind the work of groups such as the Public Lab for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) although of course with very different goals. Where PLOTS is all about putting the capability to do remote sensing across the spectrum with inexpensive/homemade materials such as hot air balloons and a tank of helium gas in the hands of environmental activists and homebrew mappers, the Darpa program aims to:
provide useful on-demand imaging information directly to the lowest echelon warfighter in the field from a very low cost satellite constellation… SeeMe will provide reliable and persistent information by using small, short-lived, very low cost satellites at low altitudes, networked into existing fielded communications systems and handheld platforms.
Nevertheless, Darpa watchers might see this as part of an ongoing structural readjustment in the GEOINT/intel sector now that post 9/11 budgets are over. The Director of DNI, James Clapper, last fall warned of “double digit cuts–with a B” over the next ten years in the intelligence budget, which had risen to as much as $80 billion a year in the USA. Darpa anticipates a satellite network capability of 24 SeeMe satellites by the 2015 timeframe.
Ironically, the Darpa announcement claims that insurgents currently have an advantage in this area:
At the same time, insurgents that operate against US warfighters worldwide are utilizing commercial imagery services to obtain information, providing them with an asymmetric advantage.