Earlier this month, the Air Force's assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Maj. Gen. James Poss boasted to the Washington Post that the service’s new airborne surveillance tool, 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."
Mounted to unmanned Reaper UAVs, Gorgon Stare’s nine cameras—five for daylight snooping, four for nighttime operations—have been billed as the next game-changing technology in surveillance and information gathering from the sky.
Despite boasts to the contrary, a document leaked by InsideDefense today reveals that Air Force testers drafted a memo dated December 30, 2010, offering a “DO NOT field recommendation” for the system.
In tests that began in October 2010, the Air Force “evaluated the adequacy and operational effectiveness and suitability of the GS weapon system.” After conducting seven sorties totaling 64 flight hours, the team “identified a Category I deficiency that rendered imagery unusable (excessive “stare-point wander”).”
Then in November, the Air Force began flying 20 more sorties—totaling 234 flight hours—that wrapped up on December 23rd. The overall assessment? “The [Gorgon Stare Wide-Area Airborne Surveillance] system is not operationally effective and not operationally suitable. The GS system, as tested, has significant limitations that degrade its operational utility including deficient IR performance, numerous [remote video terminal] interoperability problems, unpredictable system reliability/stability, and lack of system documentation.” The unit doing the testing also found that the “imagery quality is relatively poor, which yields marginal mission capability at night.”
Not a good report, especially since the Air Force has been boasting about the system for some time. Expect lots more about this issue as the Air Force tries to get out in front of the story.