The Pentagon will probably send the U-2 to Haiti so its unique multi-spectral imagery capabilities can be put to use spotting breaks in water and gas lines, chemical spills and similar problems.
"My expectation is that we hope to get that deployed soon," Col. Bradley Butz, vice commander of the Air Force's 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Va., told reporters this morning.
The U-2 contains unique multi-spectral imagery equipment (the seven-band SYERS 2) that Global Hawk and Predator don't possess. Butz said the multi-spectral tools would provide useful information about breaks in water and gas lines, as well as chemical spills.
Butz also said they pay deploy Predator to Haiti but the Air Force is still looking at just what it would add to the sensor mix.
Meanwhile, a Global Hawk has already flown over Haiti, for 14 hours yesterday and it should do 16 hours today, Butz said. It has looked at 1,000-plus targtets. "We are looking at all infrastructure, ports, airfields," he said. For example, Global Hawk is providing images to help pilots as they approach Haiti's airports. "The clarity of the imagery is good enough to provide go/no-go information for aircraft."
Troops from the 82nd Airborne and the Marines are already feeding imagery requests directly to the ISR agency. We are in direct communication with them," Butz said.
Part of that effort involves imagery from national technical means -- spy satellites -- and commercial satellite imagery provided by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Butz said his people are sharing their images from air burning assets with NGA and NGA is sharing its images with them. Southern Command, in charge of the Haiti operations, is feeding unclassified versions of that data to the non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti via an unclassified web link. And NGA has an unclassified web link to provide some of its data. Butz said they are working hard to avoid duplication.
When we asked Butz how his people were coping with the added burden of analyzing Haitian imagery while they are feeding troops in Afghanistan and Iraq with imagery and analyzing it, he conceded "it's very tough. We have to keep our airmen forucsed on Afghanistan and Iraq."
All this highlights an immense irony of the terrible destruction the earthquake wreaked in Haiti, namely that the Western Hemisphere's poorest country is getting much of the world's most sophisticated and expensive technology in its time of need.
Global Hawk, the high-flying reconnaissance UAV which costs roughly $135 million apiece, left Beale Air Force Base on Jan. 13 for Haiti. A story on the base's web site quoted Lt. Col. Mark Lozier, operations officer with the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron:" In effect, you get to look at what we know is damaged, and what we know is still serviceable. We can take a look at airfields to assess, right now, whether or not we will be able to get airlift in there with aid. We don't have to wait for a ground team to get in there and make on site decisions."
As the U.S military first really learned during the earliest stages of our Afghan war, persistent surveillance can be incredibly useful. "One of the ideal aspects of the Global Hawk for this purpose is its high-altitude; we can stay airborne 27 to 28 hours," Lozier said. "We will be using most of that time to stay on station over in Haiti during most of daylight hours to image most of everything that we can with the highest fidelity."
We got an email from a geospatial data company, FortiusOne, telling us about how they are providing mapping and other geospatial planning tools to non-governmental groups. You can take a look here at some of the nifty products they and other companies are making available to help get help where it is needed most.
Ruth Stiver, who handles PR for them, said this: "We are actively working with other communities such as OpenStreetMap and CrisisCommons, which are gathering additional data and maps that can be used to share with responders and agencies working to organize and provide relief efforts. To check out our latest collaborative efforts to help visit: http://news.geocommons.com/haitiquake.
"Feel free to contribute your own data as well at Geocommons and make sure to tag your data "haitiquake." If you know of additional relief organizations, please add them to the registry http://haiti-orgs.sahanafoundation.org/orgs/."
Obviously, the USS Carl Vinson and the Marine units heading to Haiti involve incredibly advanced technology as well.
I'm sure our readers know of other examples. Please let us know and we'll update this story or add new ones. I covered the terrible famines of 1984-85 in Ethiopia and Sudan, as well as the accompanying epidemics that rolled through the region on the heels of famine and civil war. The best technology available then was C-130s and similar military airlifters, military radios, printed maps containing weather and related data from satellites, and kerosene-powered refrigerators deployed in geographic chains to keep vaccines fresh. Let's hope today's more advanced tools will help save lives and, perhaps, help Haiti to plan better for future disasters.