New Air Force Camera System Fails to Perform

“Gorgon Stare” was recommended not to be fielded until the problems are resolved.
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“Gorgon Stare” was recommended not to be fielded until the problems are resolved.

The U.S. Air Force says a new camera system designed for drone aircraft that is supposed to bolster surveillance efforts in Afghanistan is ineffective and “not operationally suitable,” say published reports.

The low assessment opinion of the surveillance system, known as “Gorgon Stare,” named for the mythical Greek creature whose terrifying gaze turned others to stone, is the result of an evaluation carried out by the 53rd Air Wing Air Combat Command, which also recommends the system not be fielded until the problems are resolved, according to a leaked memo.

The system is comprised of several cameras—creating an array—positioned on a Reaper drone, and was touted as being able to capture images of an entire city while tracking the movements of a individual vehicle of person in real time. The test results found the quality of the video images was often poor or delayed, while footage from multiple cameras created gaps between pictures from each camera, the report said.

The system also has a serious technical problem that produced inaccurate coordinates for a particular location, raising the possibility of a strike on the wrong target. The report said “an unpredictable software error generates a faulty coordinate grid” rendering location information “inaccurate and inconsistent.”

Therefore, the evaluators rated the system as "not operationally effective" and "not operationally suitable," according to the memo, which was leaked to Winslow Wheeler, a defense analyst who often writes about wasteful Pentagon spending and provided the memo to reporters.

Nonetheless, the Air Force is not ready to abandon the program, saying in a statement that it planned to resolve the technical problems revealed by the testing. In addition, the problems likely will not “affect the deployment schedule” for using the system in Afghanistan, but that field commanders would make the final decision on its deployment, the statement says. The full text of the Air Force statement is:

“The document leaked was a draft memo that was later revised in January.

“The January 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 (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) 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.”