Radar Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) and Non-Cooperative Target Recognition (NCTR)

Radar Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) and Non-Cooperative Target Recognition (NCTR)

The spectrum of armed hostilities – conventional/declared warfare, terrorism, police action, armed robbery and contemporary asymmetric armed conflicts – continues to evolve towards less structured hostile engagements. Commanders of military and police units as well as individual soldiers, patrolmen, security personnel, etc., increasingly confront situations with blurred military/civilian targets and with no discernible difference between legitimate combatants and civilians.

Making operational decisions, sometimes with loss-of-life consequences, in such uncertain conditions is framed by extensive training, adherence to pertinent tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) and rules of engagement (ROE) that provide general guidance in most conceivable situations. Notwithstanding this background material, evaluating a potentially hostile situation and making an appropriate responsive decision, often an instantaneous decision, remain, and will always remain a personal challenge. Mitigating this challenge by developing robust decision aids regarding the disposition of potentially antagonistic targets is the essence of this volume.

This book is a revised and edited compendium of lectures on automatic target recognition (ATR) and non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR) originally commissioned by the NATO Science & Technology Organization (STO) (formerly known as the Research & Technology Organization) Sensors and Electronics Technology Panel (SET) with the title ‘Lecture Series on Radar Automatic Recognition (ATR) and Non-Cooperative Target Recognition (NCTR)’. These lectures have been presented recently in many of the NATO member nations.

The 2013 publication of these lectures by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is timely, as the process of recognising the disposition of a noncooperative and potentially hostile target is becoming increasingly challenging.

Consider, as a trivial example, the challenge of determining the nature and intent of an unidentified civilian open-bed pick-up truck with a tarp covering some object approaching a restricted zone, vulnerable personnel or critical infrastructure assets. How does one respond in a manner compliant with the rules of engagement? What decision aids facilitate the determination of target intent within time to initiate an appropriate responsive course of action?

Moreover, the trend to network all sensor and weapon platforms, command centres, communication nodes and relays, and personnel within a theatre of operations, while providing unprecedented situational awareness, sometimes produces sensory input overload that interferes with the process of mentally sorting through options in a timely manner. This alone demands an automated capability to sort, evaluate and prioritise options to be presented to a decision maker who can be anywhere along the chain of command. Reduced platform manning, made possible by wideband communication links among networked assets and by automated condition-based platform maintenance, also decreases platform staff available to contribute to decision making processes. In addition, the recent operational capability of unmanned vehicles/platforms forces remote decision makers to rely on distant sensor platforms to provide actionable near real-time, all-weather imagery as the basis for targeting decisions. There is a clear and pressing demand for an expeditious but robust automatic target recognition capability that supports the integration of all types of unmanned platforms into the order of battle – mitigating bandwidth requirements of shared communication systems, prioritising actionable information and providing different users with information appropriate to their level in the chain of command, or as requested on an ad hoc basis.

Putting ATR and NCTR in a more general context, the NATO AAP-6 Glossary of Terms and Definitions, as revised in 2008, provides a framework for assessing the nature of a target. Target acquisition is defined as ‘The detection, identification, and location of a target in sufficient detail to permit the effective employment of weapons’. Detection and identification are inextricably linked to and depend on recognition. NATO defines recognition as ‘The determination of the nature of a detected person, object or phenomenon, and possibly its class or type. This may include the determination of an individual within a particular class or type’ and identification as ‘The process of attaining an accurate characterization of a detected entity by any act or means so that high confidence real-time decisions, including weapons engagement, can be made’.

This book on automatic target recognition (ATR) and non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR) describes the challenge of target recognition, presents state-ofthe- art resources and indicates directions for future research. There is still much work to be done.

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