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Eagle Vision

Dayton - Ohio  Eagle Vision was the world’s first mobile satellite imagery collection system. US Air Force Airmen used it to collect and distribute unclassified commercial satellite images for military use and civilian disaster relief. For nearly three decades, it aided US and coalition forces and helped emergency responders handle natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

In the 1990s, the Persian Gulf War’s Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait and Iraq highlighted a need for more satellite imagery for military planning. The USAF contracted the French firm Matra to create Eagle Vision, which initially aided military and homeland defense planning when it became operational in 1993. The system quickly became a vital tool for humanitarian and disaster relief, exercise planning, and mapping, with images distributed to military, civilian, and international partners.

Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (2005) and the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami in Japan (2011) are two well-known examples of Eagle Vision’s contribution to disaster response. In both cases, near real-time satellite images aided fast decision making such as route planning to locate victims in flooded or damaged areas.

The Eagle Vision system featured five deployable stations that could be airlifted anywhere. Each station had a receiving antenna and a processing equipment shelter. A team of up to five people could process images from commercial satellites and provide them to commanders and planners quickly.

Active duty, Reserve, and Air National Guard Airmen operated five Eagle Vision units with technical support from Matra subsidiary Airbus Defence and Space. The units were based at Ramstein AB, Germany, San Diego Air National Guard Station, California, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, South Carolina, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI, and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

Eagle Vision imagery was unclassified because it came from a wide variety of non-military satellites. Products included all-weather full-color optical, radar, and thermal images in varying detail covering wide areas of the Earth. A major advantage of using commercial imagery was that a large number of satellites provided pictures faster than comparatively fewer military systems could. This reduced processing time from weeks to minutes. The ability to update images frequently was an added advantage.

Between 1993 and 2020, Eagle Vision units deployed to such varied locations as Morocco, the Balkans, Alaska, Japan, France, Michigan, and the Philippines to support military and civil operations. The non-secret nature of the images made Eagle Vision products ideal for sharing with coalition partners and civil agencies. In 2020, the USAF transferred Eagle Vision to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in order to reduce costs and avoid redundant space imagery capability.