US Air Force's new drone will 'see everything' in Afghanistan beginning this winter
The Air Force now has improved on Angel Fire with its Gorgon Stare, named after Medusa’s gaze that turned her enemies to stone. Gorgon Stare allows any user to choose from the 12 angles that it can broadcast simultaneously, Marlin said; Angel Fire allows multiple users to view its imagery but can broadcast back only one at a time. Angel Fire is also limited to day operations.
Gorgon Stare will allow a combat controller on the ground, a commander at headquarters and an intelligence officer back in the U.S. all to choose a different angle from the same Reaper, said Maj. William Bower, deputy program manager for the MQ-9 Reaper.
The sensor will supplement but not replace the multi-spectral targeting pod aboard the Reaper and the MQ-1 Predator that records full-motion video, Marlin said. He described the Gorgon Stare’s feed as "motion imagery, which will be like a slow, jumpy version of the full-motion video feed."
Viewing that wider area, though, will allow airmen to "see the bigger picture" and have a better idea where to point full-motion video sensors, Marlin said.
Reapers and MQ-1 Predators are often called on to track vehicles and hover over buildings to watch for "squirters," or insurgents running out of buildings during U.S. operations. Airmen controlling the sensors sometimes lose track of those vehicles or squirters if they drive or run out of view too fast.
Gorgon Stare will be invaluable in such instances, Bower said. Even if a vehicle drives out of the view of the full-motion video sensor, it will still be within Gorgon Stare’s range. Even if 12 squirters run in 12 directions, Gorgon Stare could dedicate one angle to each one, Marlin said.
Even after a mission is complete, Gorgon Stare will keep providing fresh intelligence by recording each angle. Airmen can then return to a previous mission and view all 12 angles to ensure nothing was missed, Bower said.
Reapers will initially be the only aircraft to fly with the Gorgon Stare, but the RQ-4 Global Hawk and manned aircraft could fly with it later, said Col. Christopher Coombs, 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group commanders, whose unit is in charge of UAV acquisition. The MQ-1 Predator and the Army MQ-1C Sky Warrior could be fitted with Gorgon Stare if Air Force engineers can figure out how to lighten the 1,100-pound sensor, Marlin said.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is working with a wide-area airborne surveillance sensor that could provide up to 60 views.
"We’re enhancing this capability and will soon be able to study 30 to 60 targets with one MQ-9 pod," said Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
What the Gorgon Stare won’t be able to do is replace Reaper and Predator missions, Marlin said.
"I think there is a misperception out there that because it can look at 12 different angles that it will be able to replace 12 Reapers," he said.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for example, threw their support behind Gorgon Stare in part for "its potential to reduce the requirement for UAS with FMV and to make the latter more effective," according to a committee report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009.
"That’s just not true, but it will be a very powerful tool the Air Force will be able to use," Marlin said.