In a few months, the U.S. Air Force will deploy to Afghanistan what is essentially an all-seeing eye. Named after the ever-alert snake-haired monsters of Greek mythology, the “Gorgon Stare” system is a drone-based sensor with a vastly increased coverage area. Compared to current airborne video systems that provide warfighters with a view of perhaps several hundred square feet of ground, Gorgon Stare will allow operators to watch everything in a two-and-a-half-mile area.
The increased operational tempo in Afghanistan has driven the need for real-time aerial video feeds to warfighters. But because of the narrow focus of current sensors, which use a single camera, troops on the ground and unmanned aircraft operators have only a small view of the battlefield. The Gorgon Stare system deploying this winter uses nine video cameras in a sensor pod mounted beneath an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle.
According to the Washington Post, work began on the system 18 months ago when Air Force scientists developed a method to link together views from multiple cameras into a single, wider image. Besides providing a wider view of events on the ground, a single Gorgon Stare-equipped UAV can stream its part of that broader image to up to nine solders on the ground.
Using electro-optic and infrared cameras, the system will be able to scan the battlefield at any time of day or night. To transmit the large amounts of video data produced by the multiple cameras, Gorgon Stare pushes the imagery out at two frames per second, rather than the 30 frames per second full-motion video used by the Reaper’s other sensor, the Multispectral Targeting System, which is mounted on the aircraft’s chin and is the primary real-time tracking tool for direct targeting, Popular Science reported.
Despite the low frame rate, program scientists told Popular Science that this was more than adequate to alert operators to any changes in the environment. One operational strategy is to station a UAV over an area and monitor any movement in a two-and-a-half mile (four km) zone. The aircraft’s full-video MTS can then focus on any activity that is considered unusual or of interest.
In the future, the Air Force has even bigger plans for airborne surveillance. Defense Systems has reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a system called Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance—Imaging System, which will move the Gorgon Stare concept up to another level. ARGUS-IS will use a 1.8 gigapixel camera running at 15 frames per second to provide a 27-gigapixel-per-second video. The system is scheduled to be integrated into the A160 Hummingbird unmanned helicopter for flight testing and demonstration.