Army explores ground-penetrating imaging technology

When U.S. troops were combing Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden was reported to be hiding late in 2001, one challenge was not knowing what the rugged terrain concealed.

The hunt for Saddam Hussein in Iraq ended after months of searching when he was found in a 'spider hole,' a small man-made cavity whose entrance was hidden near farm buildings in Tikrit.

Looking for enemies, caches of weapons'even research facilities hidden underground'is a long, arduous process. But the Army Battle Command Battle Laboratory at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., is providing some funding to explore a technology that promises to illuminate the process.

A subterranean target identification system, or STI, is under development by Silicon Graphics Inc. STI works something like a magnetic resonance imaging machine, said Paul Temple, a senior manager at Silicon Graphics Federal. By sending sound waves into the ground and using microseismic sensors to record the movement of the waves, computer software can develop a picture of what lies anywhere from 20 feet to 1,000 feet below the surface, he said.

Imagine spreading the sensors around a mosque'which military personnel aren't allowed to enter'and using sound waves to determine if there are any anomalies underneath it, Temple said.

'Typically, there's rock below the ground, but an air pocket that's shaped exactly square could be an operations center,' he said. 'If there's an air pocket shaped like a worm, it might be a tunnel; or metal [in place] of granite, maybe there are buried aircraft or trucks.'

Temple said the idea for STI came from technology currently being used in the oil and natural-gas industry. He approached officials at Fort Huachuca about sponsoring R&D into the concept.

'As a battle lab, they don't have their own funding. They get it through plus-ups [additional appropriations from Congress],' Temple said. So SGI contacted the Arizona congressional delegation, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R) took an interest.

'By leveraging the latest advanced sensing and data processing capabilities, Fort Huachuca and SGI will develop technologies that are much more effective in identifying underground facilities, posing less risk to our military men and women who are fighting the war on terrorism,' Kyl said in a statement to GCN.

The project is on schedule to conduct demonstrations by the end of the year, Temple said.

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