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Wide Area Aerial Surveillance Technologies Evolve for Homeland Security and Other Applications

WAAS: Seeing the big picture

A 54-pound miniaturized version of Constant Hawk has been developed by Logos Technologies and qualified on the RQ-7 Shadow UAS. The Lightweight Expeditionary Airborne Persistent Surveillance (LEAPS) was funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and can collect imagery from a city-sized field of view with 10 individual viewing windows. It sends imagery to ground users via the Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) and records up to six hours of data on board the unmanned aircraft.

While the Air Force Research Laboratory pursued WAAS solutions, the Big Safari Systems Program Office started parallel development in 2006 of the Gorgon Stare sensor for the MQ-9 Reaper UAS. Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is the system integrator. ITT Exelis supplies the electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensor and key firmware in the processing subsystem.

Gorgon Stare Increment 1 was deployed to Afghanistan in April 2011 and gave users daylight and infrared video of a city-sized area several miles across, plus sub-views and high-resolution chip-outs. Five electro-optical and four infrared cameras generate imagery from 12 different angles. Increment 2 is in development, with better resolution and area coverage and improved ground processing. According to Eismann, “In the future, there’s potential that future derivatives of Gorgon Stare might leverage Argus-IS or -IR.”

The Naval Air Systems Command, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, and Army Product Manager, Robotic and Unmanned Sensors jointly sponsored the Kestrel day/night, wide area sensor on aerostats watching over forward operating bases in Afghanistan. The EO/IR system deployed in 2011 uses three pairs of day/night cameras to cover a city-sized area and records data for 30 days for forensic analysis. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directoratetested the Kestrel system at Nogales, Ariz., in March 2012. “The department will continue a series of similar tests to identify other platforms and sensors to verify performance and provide tailored recommendations regarding system acquisition,” DHS spokeswoman Nicole Stickel explained.

Kestrel WAAS on Aerostat

The Department of Homeland Security evaluated the Kestrel wide area aerial surveillance sensor on an aerostat in March 2012. Logos Technologies photo

WAAS technology has homeland security, law enforcement, and commercial applications, but WAAS sensors generating terabytes of data per hour require easier-to-use PED solutions for more users. “That’s hard stuff,” acknowledged PV Labs Vice President John Bastedo. “It’s challenging for all of the latest and greatest equipment that’s out there. You have to have pretty much leading-edge processing power and software routines to process these things. Off-the-shelf doesn’t work.”

PV Labs demonstrated an 80-megapixel compound focal plane camera on the Polar 400 remotely piloted airship in 2008 and today markets commercial WAAS technology. “Our approach is to keep it affordable, compact, available – important things to budget-limited people who need performance now,” Bastedo said. The current sensor is about the size and weight of a 15-inch, narrow field-of-view sensor ball. PED systems can generate vehicle tracks on Google Maps to monitor the speed of vehicles going though an intersection, trucks versus car traffic, or stop sign compliance. “It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot happening or a little,” said Bastedo. “You can send the tracks on cell phone links and use other resources to tackle that.” He added, “A lot of folks are stuck in the old world with ‘I need to watch everything with my own eyes.’ What we’ve noticed, when we show the people the analytics on the image, suddenly, all the lights come on.”

SNC and ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems collaborated on the Air Force Gorgon Stare WAPS system and plan to market turnkey Vigilant Stare services for civil, military, and commercial customers starting next year. Synoptic Vigilant Stare motion video will disseminate imagery through existing networks. The scope of services ranges from surveillance mission planning to post-mission exploitation and archiving. “The core package is the delivery of motion video in real time to multiple users,” Vice President of SNC’s ISR Persistent Surveillance David Bullock explained. “We deliver best-resolution chip-outs direct through commercial devices that obviously require no special training.” The airborne system will record all imagery in machine lossless format. The ground processing segment of Vigilant Stare will deliver imagery products tailored to the user requirements. ITT Exelis Director of Emerging and Airborne Offerings S. Danny Rajan added, “One of the things about our architecture is this is a full-up integration solution. We’re not delivering a camera or a plane. We’re delivering full-up intelligence value.”

Vigilant Stare fee-for-service contracts will give customers use of surveillance capabilities they could not buy outright. The Vigilant Stare system architecture and concept of operations come directly from Gorgon Stare, and like the Air Force WAAS, the new system integrates a high-density focal plane array sensor with compact, power-efficient processing to fit a modestly sized aircraft. However, Vigilant Stare exploitation and dissemination subsystems are new commercial derivatives. The concept demonstrator is integrated on a Twin Otter turboprop. “That’s not necessarily the objective capability, but it should have the ability to serve limited user needs,” said Bullock. Larger aircraft such as a Bombardier Q200 would give the Wide-Area Persistent Sensor 10 or 11 hours of endurance.

Whatever the aircraft, a manned platform permits no-notice operations in civil airspace without the restrictive FAA Certificates of Authorization required with unmanned aerial vehicles. Demonstration flights for potential customers this year covered Tampa, Fla., in August. International demonstrations are planned for early 2013. “We’re focusing on security operations right now,” said Bullock. “The range of mission capabilities or users is almost endless.”

This story was first published in Defense: Fall 2012 Edition.

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As an aerospace and defense writer for more than 30 years, Frank has written in-depth...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-123833">

    Using the taxpayer’s money to develop surveillance systems that will be used on the taxpayer… Yup, that’s fascism.

    Anyone in the active military reading this: do you think the administration really needs to spy on Americans? On the communities you come from? On your own friends, family and home town? Do those ordinary Americans remind you of insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    This DHS preparation is nothing to do with defending the American people from outside harm. This is the crooked politicians and bankers preparing to defend themselves against Americans! This is the police state!

    Serving men and women: choose now whether or not you will obey illegal and unconstitutional orders. And remember that if you do the wrong thing – if you turn against the Republic, and its people – you just might find yourselves on trial for war crimes.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-137924">

    No conversation can be had about drones without discussing the fact that a single drone can now watch and record an entire city at once and auto-track every moving object. Wide Area Persistent Surveillance is coming to a city near you on a full time basis (if not already) and will be tracking every pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle in and across cities all over the USA. ARGUS, gorgon stare and other WAPS systems are being deployed by police, Not little RC planes like the media pictures. And who needs robots if you can just give the locals the data feed?
    This technology is ALREADY being deployed for use by police across the US and has been used in multiple states across the US.
    This tech is a complete violation of privacy and constitutional rights and is the very definition of a police surveillance state. One device that literally tracks everyone in the city and databases their movements for forensic discovery is an assault on one’s freedom from unreasonable search. In an environment of gun bans, whistleblower imprisonment, indefinite detention, torture, dragnet electronic spying and secret law, ARGUS and Persistics are existential threats to individual liberty, privacy and constitutional rights. Join Teame Zazzu in opposing the deployment of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance technologies inside the USA.