EXCLUSIVE – Europe 1 at the heart of military intelligence episode 3: monitoring the war from space

William Molinie
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9:22 a.m., December 21, 2022

These are the eyes of military intelligence. Image analysts scan every square meter of the planet, looking for the slightest suspicious movement of tanks, fighter planes or military ships. Thanks to the satellites which revolve permanently above our heads, in orbits located between 400 and 800 km in altitude, France has joined the very exclusive club of nations expert in observing the Earth from space.

In the imaging expert center of the military intelligence directorate, artificial intelligence software has just alerted 23-year-old Sergeant Théo. A photograph taken from space of a foreign military base. Impossible, for security reasons, to reveal the exact location or what is there.

Know how to detect a decoy

“Is it a decoy?” asks the head of the room. Sergeant Theo zooms in and walks around the image. “No, it’s a hunter, it’s on the move. And it seems to be going back to the hangar at the moment, there are several trucks lying around”, he reports to the microphone Europe 1. cliché intrigue. “On this base, it’s the first time we’ve seen these planes. It’s not at all trivial. It’s like a scoop. It will obviously interest the high military and even political authorities”, underlines Sergeant Théo .

But before reporting the information to his hierarchy, the young analyst uses his experience to deliver information in reinforced concrete. “Around the plane, we can observe that there are trucks for maintenance, fuel. Sometimes they can install missiles under the wings. So that we will see, it will be located on both sides of the plane. It will allow us to say that it is a real aircraft and not a decoy”, he explains.

15,000 shots each month

This is one of the most important challenges of military intelligence: how to deal with the “data wall”? Each month, 15,000 images, or 500 per day, are analyzed and processed by the teams of Captain Olivier, head of the expert imaging centre. “Artificial intelligence allows us to look for things we didn’t even think we were looking for. But the human eye remains essential in our work”, he explains.

The war in Ukraine resulted in directing a large part of the sensors towards Eastern Europe. This magnifying glass effect, which would risk losing sight of other major theaters of future confrontations, is a major issue for the DRM. And the armies in general, increasingly called upon to make the big difference between short time, that of operational urgency, average time, that of decision support for political and military authorities, and time long, that of anticipation.

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