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Russia and Imagery Intelligence

Imagery is the representation of objects reproduced electronically or by optical means on film, electronic display devices or other media. Imagery, along with the graphical, geospatial, and textual intelligence products derived from it, is an increasingly critical element in the planning and decisionmaking efforts of commanders and supporting staffs at all echelons. Much of the imagery available to the commander requires detailed analysis by highly trained specialists to fully exploit its value. Imagery and imagery-related information — when processed, exploited, analyzed, and fused with other intelligence information — results in imagery intelligence (IMINT).

IMINT is an extremely valuable part of intelligence. IMINT provides concrete, detailed, and precise information on the location and physical characteristics of both the threat and the environment. It is the primary source of information concerning key terrain features, installations, and infrastructure used to build detailed intelligence studies, reports, and target materials. Order of battle (OOB) analysis, enemy courses of action assessments, development of target intelligence, and battle damage assessment (BDA) are intelligence functions that rely heavily upon IMINT.

The major limitations of IMINT are the time required to task, collect, process, analyze, and disseminate the imagery product; the detailed planning and coordination required to ensure the collected imagery is received in time to impact the decisionmaking process; and the requirement for considerable assets in personnel, equipment, and communications connectivity to conduct IMINT operations. Also, imagery operations can be hampered by weather; enemy air defense capability; and enemy camouflage, cover, concealment and deception activities.

Between 1962 and 1994 the USSR/Russian Federation placed more than 800 photo reconnaissance spacecraft into Earth orbit on dedicated military missions (another 25 spacecraft were lost in launch failures). These missions have ranged in length from only a few days to more than 400 days, a record set by Kosmos 2267 in 1994. Only seven dedicated military photo recons were launched during each of 1993 and 1994. However, on average more than two spacecraft were operational during the entire period, and no observation gaps appeared. Declassified photographs with resolutions of 2-30 m can now be purchased commercially, while resolutions on the order of one-third meter have been acknowledged.

Since the first Soviet photo spacecraft was successfully orbited (Kosmos 4 in 1962), a variety of specialized spacecraft have been developed. Four basic classes of the 6-7 metric-ton photo recons were operational, and a possible new generation spacecraft began flight testing in the second half of 1994. All such spacecraft were launched by the Soyuz-U/U2 launch vehicle from either the Baikonur or Plesetsk Cosmodromes. Whereas most spacecraft physically return film to Earth for development and processing, some, longer duration spacecraft possess either digital transmission or dual transmission/capsule capabilities.

Unlike many satellites designed to photograph the Earth, Russian photo recons fly in posigrade (normally 63 degree-83 degree) orbits rather than sun-synchronous trajectories. Consequently, when altitude restoration maneuvers are made every 7-10 days, the satellite's argument of perigee is normally adjusted to keep perigee phased with acceptable lighting conditions. For example, during a typical 2-month mission, the argument of perigee will be rotated progressively from ascending passes (first month) to descending passes (second month). Fifth-generation satellites are an exception with arguments of perigee normally maintained between 80 degrees and 110 degrees.

A reconnaissance mission is undertaken to obtain, by visual observation or other detection methods, information about the activities and resources of an enemy or potential enemy, or to secure data concerning the meteorological, hydrographic, or geographic characteristics of a particular area.

Broad Area Coverage, Broad Area Search, and Directed Search Area imaging strategies provide a reconnaissance capability to cover large areas of the earth’s surface. These techniques are especially suited for providing large area coverage for baseline studies of terrain and lines of communication. On the negative side, they take extended time to produce large format mosaic prints, are normally produced at a low National Imagery Interpretation Rating Scale (NIIRS) rating, and possess imagery quality of only fair to poor.

Broad area coverage (BAC), also known as broad area search (BAS), are missions entailing imagery coverage of large areas of the earth’s surface that enable analysis of a greater amount of area and provide the imagery needed for the creation of large area mosaics. Directed search area (DSA) imagery missions identify a geographic region in the shape of a polygon that may contain from 3 to 24 corner points with latitude and longitude coordinates. This gives intelligence planners the flexibility to tailor intelligence collection and other operations plans to meet commanders’ needs.



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