Just in time for the spring offensives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Air Force should deliver the marvelously named Gorgon Stare sensor.
The first three Gorgon Stare pods, mounted on Reaper MQ-9s, will make to Afghanistan around March or April, LT. Gen. David Deptula told reporters this morning. Gorgon Stare uses five electro-optical and four infrared cameras to take pictures from different angles. Those are put together to build a larger picture. That provides more detail and more flexibility than the current cameras, but perhaps its biggest advantage will be the ability to provide 10 video images to 10 different operators at the same time.
The next set of six Gorgon Stare pods will provide up to 30 feeds to 30 different operators, said Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Those should be ready by September or October. Finally, the third tranche of pods will provide a whopping 65 image feeds to the same number of operators. "We are vastly increasing the capability of our systems without increasing the number of platforms," Deptula said.
Deptula said that Gorgon Stare was a chief reason the Air Force decided to buy more Reapers instead of Predators. Reapers can carry the new sensors and the good old Predator can't.
Looking much farther down the road, Deptula said the Air Force wants to turn its long range strike option into a an ISR platform, as much as an industrial age bomber designed principally to find, fix and deliver kinetics to a target. He called it an ISR strike platform, adding that the system could be manned or unmanned depending on mission and need. This was a key part of the new look the service is taking at the platform after Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it very clear a few months ago that he did not think the bomber -- or whatever we're going to call it -- was ready for prime time.
Finally, Deptula appeared to show a real flash of anger -- or deep-seated frustration -- with the Pentagon's ability to turn out a lighter-than-air platform. "I'm a big fan of airships -- OK!" he said in response to a question. He said he wouldn't go into why the military has taken so long to field a working production model. But he pointed to DARPA's ISIS program as one that held tremendous potential. Imagine a 1,000-foot long airship floating above 60,000 feet and able to dwell up to 10 years. That's right. Deptula said 10 years! Here's DARPA's description of ISIS: "a stratospheric airship based autonomous unmanned sensor with years of persistence in surveillance and tracking of air and ground targets. It will have the capability to track the most advanced cruise missiles at 600 km and dismounted enemy combatants at 300 km. The ISIS program will develop the technologies that enable extremely large lightweight phased-array radar antennas to be integrated into an airship platform."
For those who love acronyms, ISIS is a fine example of one that isn't a real acronym, but a nifty name: Integrated Sensor Is the Structure.