Let us talk about the biggestsingle problem in the war zone. That isIEDs. This system can hover over a townor survey area and capture images twice a second of every part of thearea. A much larger area can be handledby simply dropping the frequency of areas exhibiting zero activity.
The observation area can be surveyedfor hours using this method. The payoffcomes from been able to actually backtrack any freshly discovered IED. Enemy travel routes are shown and possiblehides located. In effect, this methoddenies an enemy the comfort that the usual methods of avoidance are effectiveanymore. Blending into a crowd is lessuseful and taking off at a run to get six miles away in an hour is a dead giveaway to any awake observer.
The enemy combatant must plan morecarefully his exit and even an exit hours old will leave a broad trail that iseasily tracked. It will not win the IEDwar but it will certainly make it many times more difficult.
With Air Force's Gorgon Drone 'we can see everything'
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 12:09 AM
In ancient times, Gorgon was a mythical Greek creature whose unblinkingeyes turned to stone those who beheld them. In modern times, Gorgon may be oneof the military's most valuable new tools.
This winter, the AirForce is set to deploy to Afghanistan whatit says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare,which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across anentire town.
The system, made up of nine video cameras mounted on a remotely pilotedaircraft, can transmit live images to soldiers on the ground or to analyststracking enemy movements. It can send up to 65 different images to differentusers; by contrast, Air Force drones today shoot video from a single cameraover a "soda straw" area the size of a building or two.
With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to pointthe camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force's assistant deputychief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "GorgonStare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for theadversary to know what we're looking at, and we can see everything."
Questions persist, however, about whether the military has thecapability to sift through huge quantities of imagery quickly enough to conveyuseful data to troops in the field.
Officials also acknowledge that Gorgon Stare is of limited value unlessthey can match it with improved human intelligence - eyewitness reports of whois doing what on the ground.
The Air Force is exponentially increasing surveillance across
.The monthly number of unmanned and manned aircraft surveillance sorties hasmore than doubled since last January, and quadrupled since the beginning of2009. Afghanistan
Indeed, officials say, they cannot keep pace with the demand.
"I have yet to go a week in my job here without having a requestfor more Air Force surveillance out there," Poss said.
But adding Gorgon Stare will also generate oceans of more data toprocess.
"Today an analyst sits there and stares at Death TV for hours onend, trying to find the single target or see something move," Gen. James E.Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at aconference in New Orleans in November. "It's just a waste ofmanpower."
The hunger for these high-tech tools was evident at the conference,where officials told several thousand industry and intelligence officials theyhad to move "at the speed of war." Cartwright pressed for solutions,even partial ones, in a year or less.
The development of Gorgon Stare began about 18 months ago. It is basedon the work of Air Force scientists who came up with the idea of stitchingtogether views from multiple cameras shooting two frames per second athalf-meter resolution. Currently full-motion video is shot at 30 frames persecond from one camera mounted on a Predator or the larger Reaper drone. Thatmakes for more fluid video, but also more difficulty in assembling framesquickly to get the wide-area view.
Technological advances now make it possible for a soldier on the groundto receive any portion of a panoramic view in real time, streamed to a portabledevice about the size of an iPad, Poss said. At the same time, nine othersoldiers can get the same or a different view. The images will be stored soanalysts can study them to determine, for instance, who planted an improvisedbomb or what the patterns of life in a village are.
The Air Force has also taken tips from the purveyors of pop culture. Itis working with Harris Corp. to adapt ESPN's technique of tagging key momentsin National Football League videotape to the war zone. Just as a sportscastercan call up a series of archived quarterback blitzes as soon as a player issacked on the field, an analyst in Afghanistan can retrieve the last month'sworth of bombings in a particular stretch of road with the push of a button,officials said.
The Air Force placed a contractor on the set of a reality TV show tolearn how to pick out the interesting scenes shot from cameras simultaneouslyrecording the action in a house. And taking a page from high-tech companiessuch as Google, the Air Force will store its reams of video on servers placedin used shipping containers in
The Air Force is looking to mount wide-area surveillance cameras onairships that can stay aloft for up to two weeks.
"This is all cutting-edge technology that is being fielded in ashort period of time," said retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, who servedas deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
"If you look into the not-too-distant future, what thesetechnologies will allow us to do is remove more and more ground forces andreplace them with sensors where we normally would have to rely on people goingsomewhere to find something out," he said.
But other military officials caution that a counterinsurgency requiresan understanding of the local population.
"That really only comes from human intelligence or boots on theground," said Army Col. Steven A. Beckman, the former intelligence chieffor coalition forces in
Kandahar in southern . Afghanistan
"We can get the 3-D geo-intelligence that tells us what everybuilding, what every street looks like in Marja," he said at the
U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundationconference in in November. But such intelligence needs to be "underpinned by a degree oflocal knowledge . . . to enable us to maximize that." New Orleans
Beckman called full-motion video "the crack cocaine of our groundforces" - but often, he said, it's a technology that is poorly utilized.
He noted in an interview that he is an advocate of the technology butthat in some cases, other tools might be a better solution for a commander'sneeds.
Marine Capt. Matt Pottinger, who collaborated on "FixingIntel," an official critique of the intelligence effort in Afghanistanissued a year ago, said he found a disconnect between the intelligence requestsfor aerial surveillance issued by commanders in regional headquarters and theneeds of the soldiers or Marines at the platoon level.
"Often what the guys need it for is not to stare at some highwayfor five hours because they want to drop a bomb on some guy they see coming outto dig a hole in the ground to plant an IED," he said. "Oftentimes,the questions that the soldiers and Marines need answered are 'Where's thetraffic? Where are the cars going? Are they actually using this strip of desertor completely bypassing this district?' "
Pottinger, a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, saidanalysts in regional headquarters should meet with troops in the field tounderstand their needs, otherwise all the "whiz-bang" gear will neverbe used to its full potential.
Gorgon Stare is being tested now, and officials hope it will be fieldedwithin two months. Each $17.5 million pod weighs 1,100 pounds and, because ofits configuration, will not be mounted with weapons on Reaper aircraft,officials said. They envision it will have civilian applications, includingsecuring borders and aiding in natural disasters. The Department of HomelandSecurity is exploring the technology's potential, an industry official said.
Poss said he would "never denigrate the need for good, solid humanintelligence because even watching an entire city means nothing unless you canput context to it."
But, he said, "being able to watch an entire city, I'm convinced,is going to have a huge impact on operations in the war zone."