Almost Snipers

For an acquisition effort that is not a program of record, ROVER, short for Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver, has evolved rapidly, giving combat controllers an increasingly more potent means to direct air strikes, Lt. Col. Greg Harbin, a senior Air Force forward air controller, said during a USAF-sponsored symposium on Feb. 14 on Capitol Hill (see above). Originally the system comprised a laptop, separate antenna, and other components; it has now morphed into a much lighter and smaller self-contained, hand-held version that is already being used in theater, he said. Prior to ROVER’s appearance on the battlefield, time critical targeting in the global war on terror was much harder to accomplish, Harbin said. In 2003, during the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it could take up to an hour to execute such a mission, but now, controllers work toward a two-minute targeting cycle, he said. “We’ve almost become snipers in the air,” Harbin said, showing video of a ROVER-assisted strike that killed a high-level Taliban commander last year in Afghanistan. Some strikes have been executed in as little as 45 seconds. “Once we fix the target, it’s hard for them to escape that,” Harbin said.