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September 04, 2006


Major Carrales

In terms of ARCHER, I have lots of good to say. It is a CAP developed assest that is a jewel in the CAP crown.

I will grant there are certain instances were SAR application is a bit ackward. Now, as Midway Six said, Disaster Relief/Assesment and patroling the LONG a much better fit.

Major Carrales


Not having any of the stats on the ARCHER having ever used the system...I just have few questions.

First....was the ARCHER designed primarily with SAR in mind or other applications? the ARCHER replacing traditional SAR techniques or just supplementing?

Third...were the SAR mission the ARCHER was deployed to, delayed due to using ARCHER vs the Mark-I Eyeball?

I ask these questions because Midway Six seems to have an anti-technology attitude when it come to SAR missions. Now I can understand being against any technology/methodology/bureaucracy that hinders the mission unnecessarily. However...attaching technology that helps one aspect of the ES mission just because it adds little or no value to another mission is not really productive.


Knowing M6 personally, I will say he is anything but anti-technology...

Does ARCHER Really Work?


Is it of any value?

Little to none.


1) It is not in wide enough deployment to impact most of the country.

A single plane per region might as well be none, unless you are smart/dumb enough to get lost within a couple miles of the hanger the Airvan is in and the 2 pilots in the region qualified to fly it happen to be in town. Regional ES cooperation? Please we have enough trouble getting local units to talk, let alone expecting states to work together. Fiefdoms are alive and well and their new name is ARCHER.

2) Any technology which relies on volunteers to attend a week-long training class with no alternative for local training will always have a limited member pool, and those trained members will not necessarily be our best and brightest, only those who are able to miss enough work to attend.

3) Currently, both the ARCHER system, and the Airvans they are in, are being guarded by those who currently possess the keys as if they are some kind of double-secret crystal goblet -
adding all kinds of extra-regulatory hoops to limit access - for example, one wing's Airvan-qual'ed pilots were telling members at OshKosh that you can't qualify to >fly< and Airvan unless you are already Archer trained first. What a load of crap.

As aircrew, why would I take the time to train myself to use the system, test online, cross my fingers I get picked, and then lose a week's vacation at Maxwell for the class, when there is no Archer system in my state, nor pilots who can fly one anyway?

3) The missions it is being touted for most, are missions many states are not involved in - missing persons, coming to mind immediately.

4) The technology is getting in the way of the basic skill set - and this goes for SDIS as well. While there is NO structured or approved curriculum on taking aerial photographs, nor is this skill even recognized by NHQ, there are 6-12 pages on how to upload a photo via SDIS, which is basically an email.

Train someone to take good photos from the air, and you can put anything in their hands from a disposable camera to a digital SLR and they will get something usable - skip that step and you'll get what we get today - mostly curvature of the earth photos or blurry junk.

Technology, no matter how tricky or advanced, is only of any value if people can get access to it with enough repetition to achieve proficiency beyond the getting started phase.

ARCHER has a long way to go for that. Let’s start with a system in every state.

Major Carrales


I think it is folly to have so few people qualified for this. There is no one in South Texas qualified for ARCHER, nor will there likely be since there is no Air Van assigned here.

Bring ARCHER to the PEOPLE, and its worth will multiply. Keep it in such a small set...and it becomes of limited value.


First off, Drew Alexa has already come under fire for his poorly-thought-out training plan. It's silly to "wash out" volunteers that we've gone to the expense of flying to Alabama, and housed for a week. This isn't astronaut training, if someone is deficient in an area, give them additional training until they get it right. This "one strike and you're out" policy of Alexa's is ridiculous.

Second, I don't believe ARCHER was ever intended for traditional SAR. Unless we have a spectral sample of the search objective, be it a specific paint chip sample, an identical article of clothing, etc, ARCHER won't find it. It is an amazing system that can find a needle in a haystack if it knows the spectral signature of that needle, but without it, it's as blind as a bat.

For CD and other "secret squirrel" ops, it is extremely valuable. For bread-and-butter SAR, a good ol' three person crew in a 182 is the better option.


The training contract we had with the company who was doing the week long training at MAFB is up at the end of this month....I have a feeling that it won't be renewed and that all future training will be done internally (similar to how we're doing the 182T glass cockpit training).

That doesn't change how thinly the fleet is spread of course, but hopefully this system will justify the cost and one day we'll buy some more.


I've never seen an ARCHER. Is it too big to fit in any airplane except the Gippsland?


ARCHER was not designed nor invented by CAP. It is a derivation of an experimental Hyperspectral system invented by a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in DC. He looked for a sponsor for a long time, as nobody in the Navy nor any other alfabet soup organizations really wanted to play in that game. Somehow, he got in touch with CAP and managed to sell them(us?) on putting up some good money to build this system. Each unit costs us $1 Million per copy: that is why there are only 16 in existence or on order. A SAR system: I sincerely doubt it. My personal bonafides are over 40 years in overhead imaging and I have never seen a hyperspectral system work as advertised. My impression of Drew Alexa is that he is one hell of a salesman: not a technical guy at all.

I could go on for many pages about this technology and others like it, but will spare you that agony. I suspect that it will get parked, along with the GA-8s, in the back of someones hangar.

Major Carrales

Well, then who are these Lt Cols going around being called "CAP SCIENTISTS?"

Fact remains that ARCHER is a CAP technology, of which I know little (appearently that is by design).

I am now of the impression that, for SAR activities, the application of ARCHER is too cumbersome.


Standard Govt Procedure: find what you need for one mission, and sell it for 15 more it can’t do for crap. They brought it on line to find dope in fields & cash in with DEA seizure money. That makes sense, but 16mil, plus what’s an airvan cost these days?

You know for a quarter that price (we ran the numbers) I could have put live-streaming over satellite external FLIR, AND nuke/rad/chem proximity sensors on ALL 530 CAP planes. Yes you could put it on a 172, they put some of that stuff on RC planes. But lets just say every 182 in the fleet. Am I talking about license plate at 30 miles spy gear? No, commercial off the shelf lightweight low cost stuff. Is it top of the line? No. Is it good as predator? Well it doesn’t crash as much, but the sensor package, no. Is there more than 12 aircraft in the US inventory that can fly transportation routes & detect a WMD device in transit? Well OPSEC, but I bet we get more missions than we can fly. Who wants to bet a FLIR on your 182 would be more helpful than ARCHER, and I mean head-to-head not even taking into account we’re talking about everybody gets FLIR versus 16 ARCHERs. I like imagery work & lots of it, but ARCHER is a waste of money they way it has been fielded.

I like new technology. I can’t believe Mark I eyeball is a primary system with the work we do. Not just the SaR, but all the rest. I can’t believe NHQ has failed to step up strong & create mission opportunities & fields of work in which we are the primary go-to agency. Our role in the cold-war response plans was HUGE, now we’re backwater plus ELTs are going away plus we’re suddenly not up to training standards (NIMS). Yeah, CAP is in a world or hurt & it’s no wonder there are retention issues. The big kids field landed in our backyard & we have to grow up to play their game or go away as an organization. CAP responded in WWII with visionary men & people crazy enough to attack subs in a J3 – to hell with enemy fire, can you believe they got past the safety officer with that thing strapped on the bottom like that? I’m hopeful CAP will get in the game, but optimism is a fleeting quality that coincides with trust in leadership that must be earned daily.


OK, I'm a tactician, not a techno-geek. Let me walk through this, and one of you smart guys can tell me where I'm wrong.

ARCHER is crap for most SAR missions, but is potentially good for certain Law Enforcement support missions. Specifically, drug-cultivation spotting and missing persons searches. ARCHER also cannot be mounted on an airframe other than the GA-8. There MAY be some homeland defense applications other than drug interdiction, that ARCHER will work in, but mostly we don't know what they might be.

There are other technologies that have more direct HD applications... FLIR, and airborne radiological monitoring. These units CAN be mounted on standard C-172 and C-182 airframes. These are fairly cheap because the technology is so common. ARCHER is high cost.

So... the solution is obvious to me:

1. Create special units of ARCHER-support squadrons under the direct control of a region commander. The ARCHER Squadron commander will screen and respond to routine requests for the ARCHER employment (From DEA) and the Region commander will direct when an emergency deployment of an ARCHER asset is to be made. The ARCHER Squadron will fly all ARCHER missions, period.

2. Training of non-ARCHER personnel should be extensive, but focused on the capabilities and limitations of the system, so that inappropriate requests for ARCHER employment do not flood the region commander's in-box.

3. Deployment of ARCHERS and GA-8's should be on the basis on one per region HQ and up to three reserve, to cover for maintenance downtime and large-scale emergencies. Reserve ARCHER-equipped GA-8's should be under the control of NHQ/DO.

4. Iran is close to going nuclear, boys and girls. We NEED to ramp up our radiological monitoring training and equipment, only LOSE THE DAMN PATCH! There is no need to advertise to the enemy that you are one of the few trained monitors in the area, and that by killing you, they will degrade America's ability to detect nukes in secret transit to their targets, or reduce our ability to provide accurate fallout predictions.

5. If were "Going South" we need to have both FLIR and RAD capability. If Mexicans can get in across the southern border, Iranians and their nukes can too.

OK, so where have I gone wrong?


Think this one thru... We scan what percentage of cargo containers? Say customs gets a hit for radiation on a container being loaded to leave the country. It is traced back & know something hot was in the Mexican border region, but package & people are missing somewhere in America. What do you do now?

You're telling me the federal govt wouldn't like the idea that on 60-90min notice they could have 100 aircraft in the air patrolling major transportation routes & direct reporting to 1AF on secure radio? With another 400 spinning up to get in the rotation. What did the US spend on HLS last year? Who wants to be the guy that refused to spend less than one million on gear like this? Another 3-4 for FLIR with training.


Obviously, you don't dump the ARCHER, keep it fielded till it proves itself &/or a cheaper alternative comes along. But also go find that other five mil & quit playing games with digital cameras & failing to step up for REAL missions, not tooling around near the space shuttle 30 hours a year acting like we're special.


Container scanning and similiar tasks are, IMHO, Law Enforcement duties.

We are not (currently) an lea.


John: you and I have fun chasing each other around these blogs. If I am not mistaken, the scheme from Nat'l is to station one ARCHER and GA-8 in each region. Just happens that CAWG has the one for PCR and treats it like our own.

I need to be convinced that the sensor has any utility for CD. I know for a fact that the DEA agent in San Fran(who is a friend) doesn't even know about ARCHER, so how can he request it for missions?

So far, National is restricting GA-8 pilots to those with Comm, Inst, Class II medical with over 1000 hours of PIC: can't even go to the training without those quals. Quite a unique club and not growing very rapidly. I happen to more than exceed all of that, but damned if I will do the training, only to have the plane 400 miles from me and no missions worthy of the name.

With my imagery background, I volunteered not once but twice to help National develop this system and get it fielded. Boy, what a resounding silence that created. At the time, I had clearances longer than my arm and that would have gone a long way towards getting some help from governmental agencies best left unnamed. No such luck, so I simply have gone silent on the subject within my own wing.

Our Wing ARCHER guru happens to be a computer guy, not an imaging guy. He wouldn't know which end of an airplane to point into the wind, but he is now our imaging expert.



Eclipse, if you'll take another whack at that, you'll see I said CUSTOMS scans container & finds signs was recently full of nuclear bomb, knows where container came from & to, but nuclear bomb cargo suddenly loose in America w/ bad guys & no trace, what now?

The govt has virtually no resources to keep such a thing from being snuck over the border & literally 12 airplaines deployed all over the world, some belonging to states & some to the feds that could detect - meaning prevent movement of - such a device. Really, you wouldn't equip most all CAP aircraft with that capability for a million bucks? That's not law enforcement, it's defending America from a foriegn threat on domestic soil by flying non-combat prevention/deterance/detection missions. That, not SaR, is what CAP was created for.

Regards ARCHER on CD. Regular agents can't request missions. I understand that's run out of the national office & they don't usually take requests. My understanding of how ARCHER works is that it detects a particular color or pattern. Which is exactly the technology used on Sats to detect larger narcotics fields in South America to be targeted for eradication. This is the scaled down version w/ some attempt to make it useful for SaR, which it sucks at.


Obviously there is a great need for more information about ARCHER to be presented to the general CAP membership because there are a lot of misconceptions, as is obvious by some of the comments here.

ARCHER is $200K per copy, NOT a million dollars. ARCHER has three different modes to detect targets - spectral signature matching is only one. It can work very well for SAR using anomaly and change detection modes. It is unfortunate that ARCHER has not had any highly visable SAR successes. If there is a single problem that exists, it is the degree of difficulty operators have in maintaining currency because of the number and distribution of systems. This is a tough problem and there is no easy solution. From my understanding of the ARCHER situation in the recent Pennsylvania search for a downed CAP member, a couple of the operators were sufficiantly rusty that they were not using the system as it was designed, and by the time a current operator was on board and very near to the find location, the arcraft was located by ground teams using cell phone data.

ARCHER is very different from the typical CAP equipment and training in its complexity. And it is not just Drew Alexa that makes certification determinations. Several members of our ARCHER class went to Col. Alexa and argued for the non-certification of class members who came to the training clearly incapable of understanding the system and hardware and unable to function at even a minimally competent level. We require mission pilots to pass Form 5 and 91 checkrides. Why would a person charged with operating this sophisticated, highly technical equipment be any different? When candidates are so computer illiterate that they are incapable of even simple manipulating of computer files (i.e., renaming and moving them), or otherwise lacking in fundamental computer knowledge and skills, there is not time to provide this basic level of instruction at the intense ARCHER operator course, nor should there be that expectation. Commanders were provided specific criteria to use in selecting and nominating candidates -- computer literacy was a core competency.

The size and weight of the ARCHER system requires an airframe much larger than the C182.

I hope this comment presents useful information for those without first-hand knowledge of ARCHER.


So at $495k per aircraft, 20 of those was it or 28? Well anyway there's $10-14million. Now you said $200k a copy times 16 right? That's 3.2million. So for 16 mission capable aircraft, that haven't found crap yet & aren't likely to considering deployment time & qual'd crew availability, we paid between $13.2-17.2 million dollars. Are you nuts?

For $750k-1mil you can put chem/rad/nuke sensors on 530 aircraft, and they require jack for training past read these numbers off the screen & discreetly do your standard signal null search from 3k AGL. Such a capability gives us the chance to do something actually meaningful for our country that it right now doesn't have the capability to do at all - not just cheaper mind you, not at all. For 4 mil more you can add the commercially avail external fully controllable hi-res FLIR for every 182, including training for everyone & internal mounted laptop for control. If you're just giving away money, a secure satellite up to push live streaming imagery direct to anyone is a pretty good option too. That's not cheap, but it's not 14mil either. A fleet with those couple capabilities fleet wide is FAR superior to a handful of highly capable & totally unproven platforms. You think CAP is proud of its very own little science project? Cause that's the worst spending decision since the McPeak airline pilot service coats. I expect better of the people who place themselves in a position to lead me, and when they don't fulfill that obligation members vote with their feet.


Ok many valid points, but the system is fielded. I rejoined CAP because of the Archer system. I had been doing research at a local university in hyperspectral imaging and I can say this: Thousands of college students have been trained and are still receiving training in Hyperspectral imaging technology and Geographical Information Systems. It is and has been a standard world wide for almost 10 years. Rapid identification of objects and materials using these devices is also a reality, in fact it improves daily with faster computers and new programs. How CAP utilizes it depends on getting skilled operators and the customers. Can Archer identify plant species, of course! and more, you can determine how dry the plant is for fire prevention. Identify chemical spills, oil spills. The Image produced by Archer is Geo referenced, that means you can overlay it on a Map, the image is a map!! Can a Mark 1 Eyeball do that? Guys it is an expensive system, but cheaper than one UAV. Technology is scary, I remember when the CAP members freaked over putting in mode C transponders. The Archer system will come into its own, maybe we need some more innovative use of it, Oh I am sorry. I remember we payed NASA $6,000 for one fly over with a U2 that gave less resolution than the Archer, and if you use a Landsat7; $600 for an image that is useless for plant identification and 15 meter per pixel black and white resolution. Archer gives you less than a foot per pixel. Add rapid object computer recognition and you got a real Star Trek Sensor. Just think, If your Mark 1 eyeball stared long enough to see an object the size of a baseball you would puke down the pilots back.

Who loves ya Baby


I really don't have a problem with teh Tech behind ARCHER. There is significant doubt that it's developed to the point of meeting the hype, but again that's not the point. The point is that with 16 slow moving aircraft very widely spread across the country, AND with very few qual'd crews & it's nearly impossible to get & stay qual'd, it is impossible to effectively deploy the platform as quickly. One or two test case aircraft would have been fine until the price comes down or we could get 100 of them funded.

Better use of that money, or more specifically, better use of future funding, would be for off-the-shelf wide distribution technology on par with a UAV but with a pilot at the stick & a qualified observer to direct the tunnel vision camera onto things of interest in the big picture view attained with the mark I eyeball. Such a platform is significantly cheaper & safer than a UAV, and can be fielded to every 182 in the fleet for cheap. While such a platform may well be less capable in plane-to-plane comparison w/ ARCHER, there is no chance 16 aircraft can do the work of 500.

By the way, the Chem/Rad/Nuke detector mentioned has the potential to produce tens of thousands of flying hours per year, and again that mission contributes more to the country than ARCHER. Do a couple searches. Check out Sandia & Lockheed. Ask HLS & 1AF about picking up the tab, they will. And get that FLIR, we need it.


OK, who am I to beleive?

1. Bosshawk says that the drug agents who need the information have never heard of ARCHER, but Bobdkirby tells me ARCHER can identify species of plants.

2. ARCHER can determine and map critical fire areas, and map oil spills. Does the Dept. of the Interior know this, and does the Coast Guard know this? After all we have MOU's with both of those agencies.

3. If ARCHER is as good as we've been told, we should be flying the wings off them GA-8's. But... ARCHER has not yet had any success in SAR?

I still think that the money used on the esoteric ARCHER program could be better spent buying FLIR and RAD gear for what looks like a much more direct threat to the United States than potential forest fires, and unproven capability at SAR.

And Elipse, I have to disagree. Detection of a nuclar attack, even delivered by terrorists, is a DoD problem. Defense agaisnt a nuclear attack is 'way beyond what the cops are trained for. Radiological monitoring can be our job, in our Auxiliary of the Air Force role.


I don't really care about the capability of the platform, but rather its employability versus alternate low cost high return systems. My argument is more directed at having our priorities straight & playing to our strengths rather than compete with other agencies. We should be looking at how important a mission is to protecting our country, not how cool it'll make us look or how many flying hours it'll generate.

If ARCHER turns out as great as the hype says it will, then other agencies will just buy it for themselves, not fund more systems to CAP. On the other hand, we have the opportunity to do great & important work for our country that other agencies are incapable of doing even as a team. CAP leadership needs desperately to step up, or get out of the way & let hard chargers thru. Folks in the field have some big ideas & big capabilities to make things happen in Govt that NHQ doesn't. I'm tired of not realizing our potential no matter how hard I work or how much I sacrifice, that by the way is reflected in retention.


You hit it, DNall.

The normal way we do things in the military is we start with a mission, then get the stuff necessary to perform it.

ARCHER was backasswards... we started with the hardware, then looked around for a mission to use it on.

Our mission is to provide light aircraft support to the USAF. We should be:

1. Flying personnel and supplies between bases.

2. Training up for Homeland Defense missions, such as RAD monitoring, border patrol, and route recon for mobilizing reserve/guard convoys.

3. Continue the SAR mission, and continue training for DR missions as an asset of 1AF primarily, and secondarily as a support agency for civilian EMA's.


Gentlemen, this is my first post on the CAP blog. Your discussion of the ARCHER system has been very interesting so far.

I've been a MASINT analyst in the military, specializing in the Hyperspectral arena for 8 years now. We've seen data from just about every sensor out there (except this one, of course), and used the data in everything from counter-narcotics to biomedical research.

We've been approached by some folks associated with the ARCHER program, so I thought I'd do a little research and see what it's all about.

From what I understand, the ARCHER system is a VNIR (Visible / Near IR) sensor. Without knowing much else about it at this point, I can say that there are certain things a VNIR system will do well, and there are things it cannot.

VNIR sensors are usually very adept at vegitative analysis. This includes state of health, vegitative stress, species identification and so on. But the level of information you can extract is highly dependent on the performance specs of the sensor. We've seen at least one sensor that was so horrible it couldn't tell the difference between concrete and grass, yet it somehow still got several million dollars worth of funding. I pray that this is not one of those systems.

Things a VNIR sensor is NOT good at include: Camoflauge detection, Hydrocarbon Detection (from oil spills to plastics), and most DEFINITELY NOT nuclear radiation.

SAR may be a feasible mission, but will have limitations. As Blackwing mentioned, you need a signature to start with. There are ways to address this, such as having a standard bright orange poncho or streamer that is issued to hikers/backpackers at National Parks across the country. If they become lost or injured, they can lay out the streamer on the ground and a HSI sensor should be able to spot it quite easily.

Hyperspectral data is extremely valuable, but people often clump all hysperspectral sensors into the same phenomenology. There are actually several sub-categories (VNIR, SWIR, MWIR, LWIR), and each category has its own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing VNIR to LWIR is nearly almost like comparing seismic data to acoustic data. Similar in concept, but the physics are a bit different.

John, your comment of "starting with hardware, then looking for a mission" is amusing. I've seen this on more than one occasion. It's such a "cool" technology that everyone wants one, but they don't really understand why. Unfortunately there are a lot of "snake oil" salesmen out there who have given the spectral community a black eye in the past.

From what you guys are saying, it sounds like this may be the case with ARCHER. What the CAP is expecting to do may not be possible. It's possible with HSI in general, but perhaps not this particular sensor.

With any luck I'll be getting some of the data to look at, and we'll be able to do a more in-depth analysis.

If anyone has questions, or if anyone has data you wouldn't mind passing on, please shoot me an email. (Timothy . Pachter @ Gmail . com, no spaces)


Oh, and sorry for the novel.

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