Air Force’s New ‘All-Seeing’ Drone Has Trouble … Seeing

Gorgon Stare, the new airborne surveillance system which officials say is capable of monitoring entire cities in real time, is “not operationally effective” and “not operationally suitable,” according to a draft report dated Dec. 30.Wired reports that the draft was obtained by the Center for Defense Information’s Winslow Wheeler. Gorgon Stare was designed in part to meet the military’s growing demand for unmanned surveillance technology. But the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida identified several problems with the new drone.

Even when working correctly, the Gorgon Stare’s cameras are “marginally sufficient to track vehicles” but “not sufficient to track dismounts [people],” the testers wrote. “In general, IR [infrared] imagery quality is poor, which yields marginal mission capability at night.”

Plus, soldiers on the ground could have a hard time capturing the Gorgon Stare’s video feed. Even if they do, a glitch in the system means 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.”

Furthermore, it appears that Gorgon Stare’s hardware is set up in such a way that the drone can accidentally blind itself by firing lasers into its own cameras.

As Wired point out, military testers are trained to find glitches and problems, and similar assessments were made about the now widely-used Predator drones back in October 2001. And the Air Force responded to the leak by issuing a statement that the draft report has been revised, and that the new memo “includes three issues that we have identified and have fixes in place.”

The first was addressing critical Technical Order shortfalls; the second was Gorgon Stare Ground Station image and grid coordinate generation; and the third was Remote Video Terminal compatibility. We’re working all three issues and do not believe they will affect the deployment schedule.

Air Force leadership understands the importance of providing quick, timely and actionable ISR for the field. Gorgon Stare will not be fielded until the theater commander accepts it.

The Air Force takes its responsibility seriously because lives depend on the quality of the intelligence products that are produced.

Gorgon Stare is supposed to be operational in a matter of months.