The United States Air Force’s new revolutionary wide-area airborne surveillance system named “Gorgon Stare,” designed and developed by Sierra Nevada Corp., and the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group was deployed to Afghanistan this winter. This revolutionary system, which operates day and night, allows its users to overcome the “soda straw” view that the current conventional single field of view EO/IR camera mounted on Predator and Reaper UAVs provides. The Air Force hopes to have 10 Reapers equipped with the Gorgon Stare system by early to mid-2011.
The $15 million dollar sensor’s exact coverage area, although classified, is estimated to film an area beneath the Reaper with a radius of 4 kilometers (approximately 2.4 miles). The Gorgon Stare system is independently operated by a two member team in a humvee, separate from that of the Reaper’s crew, and has access to 12 different camera angles. The Gorgon Stare’s camera feed is referred to as motion imagery, which is like a slow, jumpy version of the Reaper’s full motion video camera. The Gorgon Stare will not replace the better single mounted motion video camera on the Predator or Reaper, but will continue to work in conjunction with the single motion video feed. Bandwidth limitations prevent the Reaper’s crew from viewing the Gorgon Stare’s imagery, but they are fed coordinates for positioning the better motion sensor camera to the point of interest by the Gorgon Stare team.
Reapers and Predators are essential tools for our troops in Afghanistan and a necessity for the war on terror. They are used on a daily basis for surveillance and to watch for “squirters,” or insurgents fleeing from buildings, during US and Coalition operations. Reaper crews have had a daunting task of following multiple squirters and vehicles with a single camera and sometimes lose targets if they move too fast. Instead of viewing a house or vehicle, you can now look at a whole village while following 12 individual targets using Gorgon Stare. It also records each camera and saves the video in the current mission for future review.
As amazing as Gorgon Stare sounds, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working in conjunction with BAE Systems, which was awarded a $49.9 million contract in Sept, to develop the ARGUS-IS. The technical emphasis of the program is on the development of the three subsystems; a 1.8 Gigapixels video sensor, an airborne processing subsystem, and a ground processing subsystem; that will be integrated together to form ARGUS-IS. With ARGUS-IS, users from the ground will be able to select a minimum of 65 independent video windows (compared to Gorgon’s 12) throughout the field of view.
The debate at hand is whether to suit up current Reapers, which once equipped with the Gorgon Stare, have to fly unarmed at a reduced 14-15 hours flight-time because of electrical power limitations, or invest in the new UAV Magic. The future UAV Magic (Medium-Altitude Global ISR and Communications), being developed by Aurora Flight Sciences under a $4.7 million contract awarded in Sept by the Air Force Research Laboratory can fly for 5 days with a 1,000 lb payload. Aurora will use its Orion Unmanned Aerial System as the airframe for Magic.