US to deploy new surveillance drone in Afghanistan

The US Air Force is set to deploy a ‘revolutionary’ airborne surveillance system to Afghanistan this winter, which will help monitor a much larger area of focus than being currently done in the insurgency-hit country, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

The system, called Gorgon Stare, is made up of nine video cameras mounted on a remotely piloted aircraft and can transmit live images to soldiers on the ground or to analysts tracking enemy movements in the country, where the US-led international forces have been fighting Taliban insurgents for several years.

The system will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town. It can send up to 65 different images to different users; by contrast,

Air Force drones currently deployed shoot video from a single camera over a “soda straw” area the size of a building or two, the newspaper reported.

With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

The Post reported the US Air Force is exponentially increasing surveillance across Afghanistan.

The monthly number of unmanned and manned aircraft surveillance sorties has more than doubled since last January, and quadrupled since the beginning of 2009. Adding Gorgon Stare will also generate oceans of more data to process, the paper said.

The development of Gorgon Stare began about 18 months ago. It is based on the work of Air Force scientists who came up with the idea of stitching together views from multiple cameras shooting two frames per second at half-meter resolution.

Currently full-motion video is shot at 30 frames per second from one camera mounted on a Predator or the larger Reaper drone. That makes for more fluid video, but also more difficulty in assembling frames quickly to get the wide-area view.      The Post reported that the Air Force is also looking to mount wide-area surveillance cameras on airships that can stay aloft for up to two weeks.