Situational awareness: what is it and what are its uses?

Displays |  IRST |  Optronics


Aerospace and Defense

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Situational awareness or situation awareness is a global concept that involves everything that serves to perceive information from an environment. But its field of action is not limited to mere reception, but also encompasses the processing of all the information we acquire, in order to understand it and enable us to use it for a specific purpose, whatever its application.

In addition, situational awareness also allows us to make predictions. Estimates that may occur in the future with respect to certain elements that make up a scenario in order to make the best decisions.

It must be taken into account that the amount of information that is generally received is very broad. Being able to summarize it in an effective way in order to make a decision quickly is one of the great challenges that situational awareness tries to respond to.

To this end, it is essential to weigh up all the players involved in a given environment. Not all of them have the same weight and do not intervene in the same way. Hence the complexity of an apparently simple concept.


Background of situational awareness

Situational awareness has always been present in our daily lives: in a room during a work meeting, a dinner with friends, classes at the university… Wherever there is an interlocutor who must perceive the environment in which he/she is and behave according to what is expected.
Taking the example of the work meeting, while we talk we receive information regarding the body expression of the other interlocutors. As speakers, analyzing this information as we speak will allow us to effectively convey our message, in turn allowing our interlocutors to generate in their minds the concept we want to convey.

Basically, it is a conception of what the situation of your environment is and taking this conception as a starting point for action.

If we take a totally civilian context, such as the surveillance of a public building, whatever information is around you (such as the status of the alarms, the location of the access doors, the surveillance cameras, etc.) is what will end up creating your situational awareness.


Application of situational awareness in the military field

The operation in the military field is similar, only with more developed and complex technology: radars, sensors, specialized cameras, displays, etc. In this area, the context during an operation is extremely important. Therefore, situational awareness becomes a decisive advantage against enemy threats.

In addition, its field of action is in more complex scenarios. All kinds of variables must be taken into account, such as environmental conditions, sea conditions, electromagnetic context, civil and military information, locations, complex locations, terrain topography, inertial data, navigation data… in short, complicated scenarios whose lack of control and knowledge of their influence on the development of events may have important consequences.

In short, situational awareness in the military field allows efficient decisions to be made from very disparate sources, even in those moments when urgency is at its highest, making agility vital for the “decision-makers”.

Real-time knowledge of the location of troops, vehicles, ships, aircraft and allies makes it possible to avoid friendly fire conflict situations, or reduce collateral damage, for example, by having the actual picture of the location and movements of potential threats.

Based on this knowledge, we want to be able to make projections into the future and anticipate events. This concept has been present since the birth of armies. Now, we have better tools, greater reliability and better capabilities when it comes to obtaining information and reducing the time between assumption and reality.

Since the beginning of time there have been wars. But the way we fight wars has evolved greatly, driven by available technology. Already in Sun Tzu’s Art of War, the concept was recognizable and the term situational awareness was used for the first time after the First World War.

It is from the 1980s and 1990s that situational awareness begins to develop conceptually in the United States and its first technological applications are carried out in the air forces.
The investment for the acquisition of air assets, such as helicopters or fighter jets, is very high, hence the constant concern to protect this type of assets based on better decisions. Once this work logic was incorporated in this area, the need gradually spread to maritime and land-based environments as well.

Currently, the trend is to increasingly incorporate intelligent information processing capabilities into situational awareness systems, leading to improved applications that generate autonomous decisions. This is a paradigm shift from its use since the 1990s, further improving agility in decision making.


Technological challenges for situational awareness

As previously mentioned, technological advances are key to understanding the increased use of situational awareness. However, not all components are at the same point of evolution.

While some of the sensors currently available have evolved to a high degree of efficiency and perceived information quality, other systems still have room for evolution. In the case of optronic systems, it is true that increasingly the image provided is of higher quality, with higher resolution, of that there is no doubt. But it is also necessary to improve the presentation of that image, the representation of synthetic data on it, the processing or analysis of the image, the extraction of information from it, the combination of images coming from different types of equipment, for example, from alternative infrared bands or the correlation of information and fusion of data from sensors of disparate nature.

A present challenge for situational awareness is the enormous amount of data that will be generated by the constant collection of data. How to extract useful information from millions and millions of data? We need to process information differently.

We have the added problem of the disparity of media through which we obtain information. We must be able to merge them to obtain a unique result. Companies such as Tecnobit-Grupo Oesía are developing, precisely, systems that face this challenge, in almost real time. And here we believe that quantum computing will play a key role in the near future.

In terms of development and research, it should be noted that the efforts being made are focused on the software area, that is, on developing or searching for new algorithms, improving the level of integration between elements, optimizing the relationship of the elements with the different levels of information they face, improving performance or making the results more precise, regardless of the origin of the information or its nature. In other words, from the information that can come from a temperature sensor to the geopolitical situation of a territory.

Based on this multitude of inputs, we must be able to implement technologies that enable efficient decision making: for example, by implementing machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.


Grupo Oesía and situational awareness

From Grupo Oesía we have been making technological developments in the field of situational awareness for years, acquiring capacities in the processing of information for its later use and programming.

We have developed new techniques and methodologies in the field of decoding. Algorithms have also been developed based on our own processes, our own software modules.
Having this systems engineering training allows us to subsequently carry out an adequate development with very clear design logics and very well defined quality standards, with procedures that are followed down to the smallest detail.

In Tecnobit-Oesia Group, we develop, implement, integrate and maintain solutions that contribute to increase the level of situational awareness covering the complete information cycle. From image capture, through advanced electro-optical systems in both the visible and infrared (optronics), information processing, thanks to the development of hardware, firmware and software capable of using advanced algorithms for target detection, classification and tracking (IRST), and the representation of this information in any command center (C2), operations post, surveillance and even on board various types of vehicles, vessels or aircraft (Displays).


Spain’s situation in situational awareness

If we analyze the situation of our country in comparison with that of other countries in our environment, for example, NATO members, it is true that we can perceive certain differences in the degree of maturity of some technologies. Realistically, historically we have always had a technological dependence in this area, which has impacted our ability to react or sovereignty. However, for some years now, companies such as Tecnobit-Grupo Oesía have been carrying out important development efforts to give back to Spain that resilience capacity that we have experienced and suffered in the last years.

If we focus on professionals, in Spain we have fantastic engineers, of a level that is the envy of many other countries. We also have good resources in terms of technology, media capabilities, equipment and training. We can access all types of technologies and, most importantly, train students and professionals in the latest technological trends. That is to say, we have the necessary tools to increase our sovereignty within this framework, we only need to dedicate the necessary resources to its development.

Possibly, the commitment to investment in innovation, which is lower than in other countries, has meant that Spain has not positioned itself as a technological leader in sectors that could be very beneficial. However, I am a strong advocate of taking advantage of the alternatives offered by European funding frameworks, such as the EDF, EDIDP or organizations such as the EDA, which support the development of innovation and joint development projects between European organizations, with common objectives and strategies, to enhance, improve or generate the capabilities of the industrial fabric of the defense sector both nationally and internationally.

In the end, this will allow us, as a country, to be at the forefront of development. And there is no doubt that this cooperation must also be based on synergy between the public and private sectors, a greater exchange of information, collaboration with universities, integration in development programs, etc.

This framework of cooperation will enable us to provide an effective response to all these similar problems and will allow us to continue to make progress in the field of situational awareness.

Adrián de Blas, Project Manager in Tecnobit-Grupo Oesía


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