Prescott, AZ – In the heat of battle, lives can depend on being able to coordinate troop positions safely while directing aircraft to provide close air support for ground forces. DARPA’s Persistent Close Air Support (PCAS) program aims to help overcome those challenges by providing warfighters with advanced digital tools for situational awareness and targeting in place of legacy communications systems and traditional paper maps.
Firefighters battling wildfires face challenges very similar to those that troops face in battle—the need for situational awareness, precise coordination of airborne water drops and ensuring fellow firefighters are kept safe from rapidly moving and shifting flames. Unfortunately, advanced technology to overcome these hurdles has not been readily available to the firefighting community.
On May 27, DARPA personnel traveled to Prescott, Arizona to collaborate with firefighters to test the potential value of PCAS technology for these public servants. Called Fire Line Advanced Situational Awareness for Handhelds (FLASH), the prototype system includes tablet computers, aircraft-mounted sensors and radios designed to identify the location of every firefighter and firefighting aircraft in expansive fire zones. The system overlays multiple streams of information from airborne sensors, firefighters and fire command posts onto a shared digital map visible via tablet computers.
Using these technology tools during the three-day training demonstration, the firefighters were able to track each other’s positions in real time. They monitored the position of an observation aircraft overhead and watched a live-video feed from the aircraft providing a bird’s-eye view of the terrain. Participants in a command post in Prescott—as well as observers at DARPA’s offices in Arlington, Virginia—viewed the same live video feeds from the aircraft and could communicate in real time with firefighters in the field.