Air Platforms

USAF declares Gorgon Stare follow-on operationally deployable

02 July 2014
The second increment of the Gorgon Stare wide-area sensor, which operates on board the MQ-9 Reaper, has attained initial operational capability. Source: Sierra Nevada Corporation

Key Points

  • The Increment 2 system incorporates an electro-optical and an infrared sensor
  • The upgrade provides a four-fold increase in area coverage and a two-fold improvement in resolution compared with its predecessor

The US Air Force (USAF) has declared initial operational capability of the latest version of its Gorgon Stare persistent wide-area airborne surveillance system developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation.

"The upgraded system provides a four-fold increase in area coverage and a two-fold improvement in resolution compared to its predecessor," the USAF announced in a 2 July press statement.

Gorgon Stare is a spherical array of nine cameras installed on board the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle. It provides 'city-size' images taken twice per second, as well as 'chip-out' images of specific targets within that city. The sensor is a synoptic, wide-area motion imagery system, capable of watching its full field-of-view - which has a 4 km diameter - the entire time, rather than providing a 'soda straw' view as is the case with legacy sensors. One of the sensor's most important capabilities is known as pattern-of-life exploitation. This process allows military personnel to map out an area, watching it over a long period of time to see patterns develop.

The Increment 2 system incorporates an electro-optical sensor derived from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and BAE Systems' Argus technology, and an infrared sensor manufactured by Exelis, according to the USAF. Increment 2 Gorgon Stare was deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year, the USAF added.

The Increment 1 Gorgon Stare system has provided more than 10,000 hours of direct combat support by flying long duration sorties in Afghanistan since March 2011.

Lieutenant General Larry James, the former chief of USAF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, praised the system last year - just over two years after a leaked US Department of Defense report criticised the sensor for its performance during domestic testing. The report, leaked to the media in January 2011, said the sensor received a poor operational assessment from testers at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Sierra Nevada Corporation officials said at the time that the sensor delivered to the testers was intentionally designed as an "80% solution" since it was developed under the USAF's Big Safari office focused on fielding technology quickly to combat zones.

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