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Chapter 7

Imagery Intelligence


7-1. IMINT is intelligence derived from the exploitation of imagery collected by visual photography, infrared, lasers, multi-spectral sensors, and radar. These sensors produce images of objects optically, electronically, or digitally on film, electronic display devices, or other media.


7-2. The role of imagery is to assist the commander in focusing and protecting his combat power. Imagery often enhances the commander's situational understanding of the battlespace. Other than direct human observation, imagery is the only intelligence discipline that allows the commander to see the battlefield in real time as the operation progresses. In those cases where maps are not available, digital imagery in hardcopy or softcopy can be used as a substitute. Imagery can also be used to update maps or produce grid-referenced graphics. Detailed mission planning often requires imagery, to include three-dimensional stereo images, in order to provide the degree of resolution necessary to support such specialized planning.


7-3. Some imagery assets are very responsive to the individual commander's intelligence requirements. Some imagery systems can directly transmit imagery into the tactical operations center (TOC); examples include imagery from UAVs and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). This direct downlink enables the G2/S2 to use the imagery as soon as possible instead of having to wait for finished imagery products. A note of caution is required, however, if not a trained imagery analyst because the G2/S2 could incorrectly interpret the imagery.

7-4. Imagery-related equipment has undergone a reduction in size as well as a reduction in the time it takes to provide products, particularly softcopy imagery. The modularity and size reduction of imagery analysis, processing, and display systems make transport easier; they also allow the commander to bring lesser amounts than in the past, while still retaining those systems (or subsystems) required to complete the mission. Additionally, data compression allows faster transmission of imagery products directly to the warfighter.


7-5. There are three general sources of imagery: national, civil, and commercial. National imagery traditionally refers to imagery collected by DOD imagery systems. However, there are other sources of imagery provided by non-national sources such as handheld photography (film, digital, and video), UAV imagery, and gun-camera images.


7-6. National systems are developed specifically for supporting the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, other national agencies, and US military forces. These systems respond to the needs of the nation and those of the combatant commands.


7-7. Civil imagery systems are usually government funded in terms of building, launching, and operating the system. In many, but not all, cases the agencies operating these civil imagery systems also process, distribute, and archive the imagery data or images.


7-8. Commercial companies build, launch, and operate imagery systems for profit. In times of crises, license agreements with the US Government obligate US commercial satellite imaging systems to provide data only to the US Government at the market value. This protects information concerning US operations from adversarial exploitation from commercial systems such as the ACE Imagery Company. However, foreign commercial imagery systems are not bound to this arrangement, and thus may be used by our nation's adversaries. Commercial imagery has become increasingly valuable for many reasons:

  • Due to its unclassified nature, civil and commercial imagery is useful in an open environment, may be released to multinational partners, and can be made available to the press. They are especially useful for geospatial products. Their use allows national systems more time to focus on other intelligence functions.
  • Civil and commercial imagery offer radar and multi-spectral. Some offer large area collection useful for broad area coverage purposes.
  • Commercial satellite imagery resolution varies from less than one meter to several kilometers.

7-9. The Central Imagery Tasking Office (CITO) is responsible for ordering commercial imagery. The Commercial Satellite Imagery Library is available to research DOD purchased commercial imagery. The G2/S2 should consult the CITO when forming commercial imagery requests. NGA will deliver the imagery primarily on CD-ROM media via courier or mail service. Limited digital or electronic delivery is available as well.


7-10. There are four types of imagery sensors: visible (optical), infrared, radar, and multi-spectral. Each sensor has a unique capability, with distinct advantages and disadvantages. The G2/S2 must understand each sensor's capability in order to select the best sensor for the mission and thus enable the user to better understand the intelligence received. Certain sensors are better suited for military operations than others. (See Table 7-1.)

Table 7-1. Sensor Characteristics Matrix.




Visible (Optical)

Best tool for daytime, clear weather, detailed analysis. Includes video and electro-optical.

Affords a familiar view of a scene.

Offers system resolution that cannot be achieved in other optical systems or in thermal images and radars.

Preferred for detailed analysis and mensuration.

Offers stereoscopic viewing.

Restricted by terrain and vegetation.

Limited to daytime use only.

Reduced picture size.


Best tool for nighttime, clear weather, detailed analysis.

Includes Overhead Non-Imaging Infrared (ONIR).

A passive sensor and is impossible to jam.

Offers camouflage penetration.

Provides good resolution.

Nighttime imaging capability.

Not effective during thermal crossover periods.

Product not easily interpretable.

Requires skilled analysis.

Cannot penetrate clouds.


Useful for detecting presence of objects at night and in bad weather. Includes synthetic aperture radar (SAR), coherent change detection (CCD), and MTI.

All weather; can penetrate fog, haze, clouds, smoke.

Day or night use.

Does not rely on visible

light nor thermal radiation.

Good standoff capability.

Large area coverage.

Allows moving target


Foliage and ground penetration.

Product not easily interpretable.

Requires skilled analysis.

Terrain masking inhibits use.

Multi-Spectral Imagery (MSI)

Best tool for mapping purposes and terrain analysis.

Large database available.

Band combinations can be manipulated to display desired requirements.

Images can be merged with other digital data to provide higher resolution.

Product not easily interpretable.

Requires skilled analysis.

Computer manipulation requires large amounts of memory and storage; requires large processing capabilities.


7-11. The first step in planning for IMINT is determining the need for IMINT products based on the PIRs and the initial IPB. The G2/S2 should research targets using online imagery databases early and request those imagery products that are not perishable for contingency planning. National and COCOM imagery databases may hold recently imaged targets that could meet the commander's immediate needs instead of requesting new imagery. The staff must clearly articulate their intelligence requirements to include communicating what the mission is and how the requested product will aid in mission accomplishment. The G2/S2 should submit the imagery requirement using established procedures such as those in the unit's SOP or as established by the COCOM.

7-12. The G2/S2 must also determine the specific imagery requirements so as not to burden the system with unnecessary requests. The desire for imagery products often exceeds the capabilities of the IMINT system. Therefore, it is imperative that the G2/S2 consider what type of analysis they require, and request only that which they require. The specifications of the request for IMINT products often affect the timeliness of the response. For example, determining if vehicles are tanks takes less time and requires less resolution than determining if a tank is a T-64 or a T-72.

7-13. Here are some of the roles IMINT can perform that the G2/S2 may consider when determining IMINT requirements:

  • Imagery can detect and/or identify and locate specific unit types, equipment, obstacles, potential field fortifications, etc., from which intelligence analysts are able to analyze enemy capabilities and develop possible COAs.
  • Imagery can also update maps and enhance the interpretation of information from maps. Detailed mission planning uses imagery to include stereo images for three-dimensional viewing of the terrain and many other geospatial uses.
  • Imagery can be used as a substitute for maps when maps are not available. The most common application of this technique is by constructing imagery mosaics: a combination of two or more overlapping photographic prints that form a single picture.
  • MTI displays or products can provide an NRT picture of an entity's movement by indicating its speed, location, and direction of travel. MTI systems do not differentiate friendly from enemy. Imagery assets, particularly MTI systems, are useful in cueing other ISR systems.
  • Imagery can be used to support protection of the force by helping the commander visualize how his forces look: including their disposition, composition, and vulnerabilities: as exploited by enemy IMINT sys-tems.
  • Imagery analysts use combat assessment imagery to confirm destruction, determine the percentage of destruction, or whether the target was unaffected.


7-14. The G2/S2 IMINT-related actions during the prepare function of the intelligence process include establishing or verifying the portion of the intelligence communications architecture that supports IMINT display and analysis functions properly. Additionally, the G2/S2 must ensure that required IMINT analytical assets and resources are prepared to provide support or are available through intelligence reach. Lastly, the G2/S2 must also ensure IMINT reporting and dissemination channels and procedures are in place and rehearsals are conducted with all pertinent IMINT elements to ensure interoperability.


7-15. As previously mentioned, there are four types of imagery sensors. Depending on the type of sensor, it can record hardcopy or softcopy single frame or continuous (video). A given imagery target will not necessarily receive continuous coverage due to the possible conflict between the number and priority of targets and the number and availability of imagery assets. However, a commander may decide to have continuous surveillance of certain targets, for specified periods of time, usually using his own imagery assets (for example, UAV) even though this detracts from the commander's ability to use these assets for other imagery targets within his AOI.


7-16. The process function regarding IMINT involves converting imagery data into a form that is suitable for performing analysis and producing intelligence. Examples of IMINT processing include developing film, enhancing imagery, converting electronic data into visual displays or graphics, and constructing electronic images from IMINT data.


7-17. The IMINT producer must ensure the IMINT product satisfies the associated intelligence requirements and that the product is in the required format. The quality and resolution of the product is highly dependent upon the type of sensor, the time of day, and the weather conditions, as well as the imagery analyst's ability to identify items, vehicles, equipment, and personnel within the images. Specific IMINT products are discussed in the ANALYZE section below.


7-18. Timeliness is critical not only to IMINT collection but also to IMINT analysis and reporting. It is difficult to separate IMINT reporting from IMINT analysis in this discussion. This is demonstrated by the three phases of IMINT reporting presented below; all are dependent upon the timeliness requirements. Each phase represents a different degree of analysis and period of time available to accomplish the exploitation of the imagery.

  • First Phase imagery analysis is the rapid exploitation of newly acquired imagery and reporting of imagery-derived information within a specified time from receipt of imagery. This phase satisfies priority requirements of immediate need and/or identifies changes or activity of immediate significance. First Phase imagery analysis results in an Initial Phase Imagery Report (IPIR).
  • Second Phase imagery analysis is the detailed exploitation of newly acquired imagery and the reporting of imagery-derived intelligence and information while meeting the production and timeliness requirements. Other intelligence discipline source material may support phase two imagery as appropriate. Second phase imagery analysis results in a Supplemental Imagery Report (SUPR).
  • Third Phase imagery analysis is the detailed analysis of all available imagery pertinent to an SIR, and the subsequent production and reporting resulting from this analysis within a specified time. This phase provides an organized detailed analysis of an imagery target or topic, using imagery as the primary data source but incorporating data from other sources as appropriate.

7-19. The two types of imagery exploitation are national and direct support (DS).

  • National exploitation is imagery exploitation that supports presidential requirements, National Security Council (NSC) requirements, congressional requirements, or requirements of a common concern to the intelligence community.
  • DS exploitation is imagery exploitation that supports assigned missions of a single agency, department, or command (the warfighter).

7-20. IMINT assets will complete DS exploitation in order to satisfy (First Phase) requirements and report the results as soon as possible, but not later than 24 hours after receipt of the imagery. Collectors will complete national exploitation in order to satisfy (Second and Third Phases) requirements and report the results within the time specifications of each individual requirement.


7-21. IMINT products are distributed or disseminated in hardcopy, softcopy, or direct viewing such as through remote terminals. The distribution of hardcopy products will be via couriers or other type of mail system. The dissemination of softcopy products will be either as hardcopy products (for example, CD-ROM and 3.5-inch disks) or electronically. The requestor must ensure that the requested product is transmittable over the available communications systems.


7-22. The requestor should immediately assess the imagery product upon receipt for accuracy and relevance to the original request. The requestor must then notify the producer and inform him of the extent to which the product answered the PIR. Providing feedback to the producer regarding the product helps ensure the producer will provide the required information in the correct format. The following are some of the questions which the requestor should consider when providing feedback to the producer.

  • Is the format of the product acceptable?
  • Is additional information needed on the product or future products?
  • Is excess information included on the product?


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