Air Force's All Seeing Eye Might Be Blind

So Gorgon Stare, one of the keys to the Air Force's plan to put airborne ISR over as much of the AOR as possible is running into some teething problems, according to sister site DoDBuzz.

The device is essentially a sensor package of five electro-optical cameras and four infrared cameras fitted onto an MQ-9 Reaper UAV. In theory, each camera can be focused on a different target; dramatically increasing the amount of territory one drone can monitor. For years, many in the air service have been worrying about how they will process and use all the raw video that will be generated by the new system.

Well, it might be a little while longer before they have to tackle that problem.

Apparently, the camera system can't identify and track targets. Apparently, Pentagon testers recommended that it not be fielded.

Some of the 13 problems they are reported to have discovered:

The imagery from Gorgon Stare is frequently marginal to poor, depending on the mode of use.  Specifically, when it is used for “near real time” field or ground station use, the electro-optical (EO) imagery “can find and track [objects as small as] vehicles” but not “dismounts” (people).  For contemporaneous users in the field, the Infrared (IR) imagery is worse: it is “marginally sufficient to track vehicles” and “not sufficient to track dismounts. In general, IR imagery quality is poor, which yields marginal mission capability at night.”

* In fact, Gorgon Stare may be a step backwards.  The multi-camera aspect of the design seems to have created problems. Some of the imagery is “subject to gaps between stitching areas [where the camera images meet], which manifests itself as a large black triangle moving throughout the image. “Contrast differences between the four IR cameras degrade the ability to track targets across the image seams.”  And, “dropped [image] frames from a few seconds to several minutes-[make] it impossible to track moving targets over that period.”

* Beyond the “seams” between images, the image quality is degraded from what users in the field have come to expect: “image quality does not support mission sets commonly used by RVT [remote video terminal] users”.  In plain English, the image quality is worse than that now provided by Predator and Reaper drones without GS.

* There is a serious time delay problem. Transmissions to the ground, at the rate of two frames per second, arrive 12 to 18 seconds late for the ‘subview’ ground station, and it arrives 2 seconds late to the ‘real time’ users in the field.  This “limits,” if not eliminates, the ability to track and prosecute “dynamic” (i.e. moving) targets.  Of course, when the target moves to the edge (“seam”) of a camera frame, this problem becomes worse.

* The better quality imagery that is obtained from the computer pod after flight takes too long to download ‘to conduct timely forensic analysis.’

* There is another serious problem regarding the accuracy of location coordinates: ‘an unpredictable [i.e. random] software error generates a faulty coordinate grid’ rendering location information ‘inaccurate and inconsistent.’ In other words, if Gorgon Stare is ever able to find and identify a target, it might generate a false location, rendering an attempt to attack it ineffective-and hitting an unintended location which may contain innocents or friendly forces. A tester unofficially remarked that means it cannot be used for sensor or weapons cueing, a primary reason for Gorgon Stare’s existence.
Apparently, Big Safari, the Air Force unit responsible for developing Gorgon Stare says the system was tested outside of its beyond its operational requirements in environments it wasn't designed for. We'll see what happens with the system, which is still desperatley needed.

As DoDBuzz points out:

The argument by many technology and Pentagon advocates will be that the system has been fielded rapidly and will get much better with time, as users figure out better how to use it, maintainers figure out how to work with it and the developers improve the technology. That’s all true, but this and other rapidly fielded systems must get even better as the budget crunch is likely to grow worse or they risk being scrapped for poor performance. And, of course, the troops and taxpayers deserve it.
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