US to deploy new intelligence drone in Afghanistan

US Air Force is looking to mount wide-area surveillance cameras on airships.

Last Updated: Jan 02, 2011, 19:23 PM IST

Washington: The US military is set to deploy
in insurgency-hit Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary
airborne surveillance system which can transmit live video
images of physical movement across an entire town, a media
report said today.

The system, Gorgon Stare, is made up of nine video
cameras mounted on a remotely piloted aircraft, can transmit
live images to soldiers on the ground or to analysts tracking
enemy movements.

It can send up to 65 different images to different
users; by contrast, Air Force drones today shoot video from a
single camera over a "soda straw" area the size of a building
or two, Washington Post reported.

The US Air Force is looking to mount wide-area
surveillance cameras on airships that can stay aloft for up to
two weeks.

Gorgon Stare is being tested now, and officials hope it
will be fielded within two months. Each USD 17.5 million pod
weighs 1,100 pounds and, because of its configuration, will
not be mounted with weapons on Reaper aircraft, officials
said.

With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess
where to point the camera, said Major General 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."

Questions persist, however, about whether the military
has the capability to sift through huge quantities of imagery
quickly enough to convey useful data to troops in the field,
the Post said.

Officials also acknowledge that Gorgon Stare is of
limited value unless they can match it with improved human
intelligence - eyewitness reports of who is doing what on the
ground.

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.

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.

PTI