The U.S. Air Force has begun flying unmanned aircraft equipped with what officials have billed as a cutting-edge surveillance system for the war in Afghanistan, military officials said Friday.
After several delays related to technical concerns and doubts about its performance, the new system — dubbed “Gorgon Stare” in reference to the mythical Greek monsters — was deployed in late March and became operational in recent days, the Air Force said in a brief statement.
The system consists of nine video cameras mounted on a drone and can potentially transmit live video images of physical movement in an entire small town — a huge leap over current Air Force technology.
Gorgon Stare, which has been under development for more than two years, is designed to send up to 65 different images to different users with what the military refers to as “wide-area surveillance.” In comparison, most other Air Force surveillance drones record video from a single camera, with a much narrower field of vision.
In its statement, the Air Force confirmed for the first time that Gorgon Stare had been deployed but gave no details of how it is being used, citing “security reasons.” In the past, Air Force officials have predicted that Gorgon Stare’s sensors would enable troops on the ground to gaze over wide areas when searching for the enemy or record any movements made across a village.
The surveillance system ran into trouble late last year with Air Force field testers, who found that it was “not operationally effective” and recommended that it not be fielded. The testers questioned whether Gorgon Stare could adequately capture images at night and cast doubts on whether its cameras had the resolution to identify individuals on the ground.
Senior Air Force officials said they were able to remedy or resolve most of the deficiencies. U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan have become highly dependent on camera-equipped drones and have pressed the Air Force and Army to provide additional resources.