Wide-Area Motion Imagery Systems: Evolution, Capabilities and Mission Sets

Even among security experts and military professionals in Europe, wide-area motion imagery (WAMI) is seldom discussed and is often confused with full-motion video cameras or other systems. This is despite its important capabilities for many security users.

More than just another look-and-see sensor, WAMI (also referred to as wide-area persistent surveillance) is a powerful data-gathering tool that has been operational in the field for more than a decade. Indeed, since the technology first debuted as a Quick Reaction Capability for the US Army, it has undergone a rapid evolution with important capability implications.

Once bulky beasts, WAMI systems have been getting smaller, yet more capable. This has allowed them to be integrated on new platforms, going from aircraft such as the MC-12W to tethered blimps, helicopters and tactical unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

With this proliferation of parent-platforms, WAMI has transitioned beyond the battlefield. For example, the sensor can provide security at sensitive sites or be deployed along international borders to detect smuggling and illegal migration flows. It can support relief and rescue missions too, providing real-time environmental and structural damage assessments.

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The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is an independent think tank engaged in cutting edge defence and security research.