The next-generation surveillance package for the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, named for Medusa’s stoney glare, will provide an unprecedentedly broad view of the battlefield spanning time and space The military’s unblinking eye in the sky, which keeps watch over operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is about to get even beadier.
A new multi-camera sensor the U.S. Air Force is adding to its killer spy drones will exponentially broaden the area troops can monitor, and the technology lets a dozen users simultaneously grab different slices of the image. Called the Gorgon Stare, it represents the next big step in unmanned combat aircraft.
Two MQ-9 Reapers retrofitted with the new $15 million wide-area aerial surveillance sensors, or WAAS, will fly test missions later this year, and the Air Force plans to have ten such planes in battle by next spring, in rotation on a 24/7 patrol. “It’s an incredible force enhancer,” said Colonel Eric Mathewson, Director of the service’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Task Force at the Pentagon. Sierra Nevada Corporation, makers of the WAAS, chose the name, a spooky reference to the cursed sisters from Greek mythology—Medusa being the Beyoncé of the trio—whose gaze turned men to stone.
The system uses an array of five electro-optical and four infrared cameras to capture day and night images from different angles, which are stitched together in a single mosaic scene much broader than what any single lens could deliver. At command central, tiled screens will display the composite picture, so that if an insurgent runs out of view on one, he’ll simply pop up on the next. Field commanders can pull a piece of the picture encompassing their surroundings, and pan, tilt or zoom if they see something suspicious. The cameras are fitted into a pod under one wing, with the communications gear on the other. The entire package weighs 1,100 pounds, which will still allow the Reaper to carry weapons…