Gorgon Stare Blinks A Lot; Testers Say Don’t Field Til Fixed

Gorgon Stare Blinks A Lot; Testers Say Don’t Field Til Fixed

Gorgon Stare, hailed by the Washington Post as an advanced ISR tool par excellence, should not be fielded now because it works less than the half time it should and is deemed by testers to be “not operationally suitable.”

The 53rd Wing of the Air Combat Command at Eglin Air Force Base made the recommendation in an operational utility evaluation.

Gorgon Stare is built by the Sierra Nevada Corp working under the aegis of the Air Force’s vaunted Big Safari (645th Aeronautical Systems Group), charged with developing promising weapon systems quickly and getting them into use. It provides imagery from five electro-optical cameras and four infrared cameras in one pod and is supposed to be able to do day and night operations. The sensors are flown on MQ-9 Reapers.

Here’s how the Post quoted a senior Air Force official about the system:

“With the new tool, analysts will no longer have to guess where to point the camera, said Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, the Air Force’s assistant deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. ‘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.’”

Here’s what Winslow Wheeler, former congressional defense budget expert and now with the Center for Defense Information, said about the system. (To his credit, Wheeler got a hold of the test memo. Check the memo for the official descriptions of the problems. Wheeler summarizes below.)

His summary of the problems runs thus:

“According to DOD testers, Gorgon Stare is ineffective (‘not operationally effective’) and unreliable (‘not operationally suitable’).  As described below, it cannot readily find and identify targets (especially human targets), and it cannot reliably locate what it sees.  (Moving targets of any size at any location present a different problem.)

Here’s his litany of Gorgon Stare woes in an email he sent:

“The 53rd Wing of the Air Combat Command at Eglin Air Force Base was tasked to test Gorgon Stare in an “operational utility evaluation.”  In a draft of its test report, which I understand is fundamentally unchanged in its final form, the testers -

* found 13 “Category 1″ (i.e. serious) deficiencies;

* stated Gorgon Stare is “not operationally effective,” and it is “not operationally suitable.”  That’s a flunk in OT&E terms: it’s both ineffective and unreliable, and recommended that Gorgon Stare not be “fielded” (deployed) to Afghanistan, or anywhere else.

“The more you read, the worse it gets:

* The imagery from Gorgon Stare is frequently marginal to poor, depending on the mode of use.  Specifically, when it is used for “near real time” field or ground station use, the electro-optical (EO) imagery “can find and track [objects as small as] vehicles” but not “dismounts” (people).  For contemporaneous users in the field, the Infrared (IR) imagery is worse: it is “marginally sufficient to track vehicles” and “not sufficient to track dismounts. In general, IR imagery quality is poor, which yields marginal mission capability at night.”

* In fact, Gorgon Stare may be a step backwards.  The multi-camera aspect of the design seems to have created problems. Some of the imagery is “subject to gaps between stitching areas [where the camera images meet], which manifests itself as a large black triangle moving throughout the image. “Contrast differences between the four IR cameras degrade the ability to track targets across the image seams.”  And, “dropped [image] frames from a few seconds to several minutes-[make] it impossible to track moving targets over that period.”

* Beyond the “seams” between images, the image quality is degraded from what users in the field have come to expect: “image quality does not support mission sets commonly used by RVT [remote video terminal] users”.  In plain English, the image quality is worse than that now provided by Predator and Reaper drones without GS.

* There is a serious time delay problem. Transmissions to the ground, at the rate of two frames per second, arrive 12 to 18 seconds late for the ‘subview’ ground station, and it arrives 2 seconds late to the ‘real time’ users in the field.  This “limits,” if not eliminates, the ability to track and prosecute “dynamic” (i.e. moving) targets.  Of course, when the target moves to the edge (“seam”) of a camera frame, this problem becomes worse.

* The better quality imagery that is obtained from the computer pod after flight takes too long to download ‘to conduct timely forensic analysis.’

* There is another serious problem regarding the accuracy of location coordinates: ‘an unpredictable [i.e. random] software error generates a faulty coordinate grid’ rendering location information ‘inaccurate and inconsistent.’ In other words, if Gorgon Stare is ever able to find and identify a target, it might generate a false location, rendering an attempt to attack it ineffective-and hitting an unintended location which may contain innocents or friendly forces. A tester unofficially remarked that means it cannot be used for sensor or weapons cueing, a primary reason for Gorgon Stare’s existence.

* Limited bandwidth is the reason for the slow data receipt; a ‘work around’ was established, but that reduces the quality of images even more.

  • Despite ‘full contractor logistics,’ Gorgon Stare performed poorly on measures such as ‘average failures per sortie; meantime between failures; and troubleshooting time following a failure.’ Overall, one tester commented that it is “about 55 to 65 percent reliable.’

What really makes this noteworthy is that Gorgon Stare is exactly the kind of program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his acquisition leaders believe can help reshape how the Pentagon buys and develops weapons.

The reactions to the test recommendations are worrying. Wheeler says that Big Safari “claimed that the tests were unfair as they probed performance areas that were beyond the specifications for the system-just as operational testers are supposed to.  Big Safari even protested that Gorgon Stare ‘was designed to operate in a different environment from which is currently envisioned-relatively flat earth with a greater number of vehicles.’  That would clearly exclude Afghanistan. And, therefore, they argue, it should be deployed immediately to Afghanistan!’”

The argument by many technology and Pentagon advocates will be that the system has been fielded rapidly and will get much better with time, as users figure out better how to use it, maintainers figure out how to work with it and the developers improve the technology. That’s all true, but this and other rapidly fielded systems must get even better as the budget crunch is likely to grow worse or they risk being scrapped for poor performance. And, of course, the troops and taxpayers deserve it.

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Part 1 / 2

Text excerpt: “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.”

But what’ s the devastating problem in the first place? Here in France, if the shopping malls or the banks etc. don’t want people to know where their ceiling-mounted C.C.T.V. cameras are presently pointing at, they simply place dark or reflective domes over them! For what I know, there may even be NO cameras at all beneath all those domes, they’re just mock-ups to dissuade robbers, like fake “Beware of the dog!” or “Protected by Securitas” signs!

Anyway: What person on the ground can really tell where a DRONE-mounted camera ( = SEVERAL KILOMETERS OVER IT !! ) is presently pointing at? Unless it’s high time for me to go to the ophthalmologist…


Part 2 / 2

Text excerpt: “The better quality imagery that is obtained from the computer pod after flight takes too long to download ‘to conduct timely forensic analysis’.”

Professional photo reporters use man-portable Nikon or Canon satellite uplinks to transmit extremely high-resolution pictures, and small satellite dishes for direct broadcasts ( = for live videos with broadcasting quality), and that’s merely commercial, civilian technology on mall shelves, so, once again: Where does somebody see a real technical problem here? Just go to a French mall, there you’ll find everything the U.S. Armed Forces need! Or ask National Geographic to lend you some of their flying contraptions for eagle nest observations.

Don’t tell me it’s because of the file sizes either: According to the text, the Gorgon Stare’s pictures have barely more than Webcam quality!

The FY 2011 budget has $1.080 billion in it for 48 Reapers, of which 12 at $216 million support overseas operations (read: Afghanistan and Pakistan). So, the question is: How many of these $12 million a unit UAV’s are we going to buy anyway that provide Gordon Stare “capabilities”? Wasted money? Or will the Air Force sidestep the issue and “reconfigure” them for a different mission?

Farm out the software problem to Google for about 6 weeks. They will probably solve it gratis using their 20% “fun” hours.

(See Google Earth, Street View, Liquid Galaxy, etc.,.….…..)

Why is this so HARD? So much for the vaulted capabilities of our defense contracting community. Why worry about defense cuts; we don’t get shit for our current expenditures?

People are talking as if a bug riddled project that delivers performance worse than what it replaces is a problem. The fact is it’s a great success for the defense contractor.

In the commercial world you don’t get paid until it works, but defense contractors don’t stop getting paid until it works. And there is always the jackpot — project canceled and restarted with a fresh trough of cash.

Whether its the F35 avionics team being told that profits come before quality, the outright lying about development processes to one major contractor that had 50 staff who couldn’t string two lines of code together, corruption and failure is so endemic it hasn’t just affected the contractor business model it has become the business model.

Lets be clear if the defense industry had it’s way — the entire government budget would be handed over to them and they would deliver nothing in return.

Just ask them — they will openly tell you that they are the only industry that the government should be funding and the rest of the economy should be subordinated to their needs.

“Here in France, if the shopping malls or the banks etc. don’t want people to know where their ceiling-mounted C.C.T.V. cameras are presently pointing at, they simply place dark or reflective domes over them!”

Yes, not just France. I’ve seen them in Japan, UK, and the US as well.

I agree, that there’s no way for the naked eye to see what the camera is looking at anyway, unless they’re using binoculars.

But this is a pointless to pick on as it doesn’t really serve anything to the article except to ridicule a man’s words.

I don’t see where it says the image quality is “barely more than webcam quality” The Gorgon Stare’s camera resolution is much higher than that.

The article also already mentioned that low-bandwidth availability is a reason. Larger broadcast networks have less satellite feeds to compete for bandwidth. Also, broadcast quality is still far lower than the quality of the video feeds from ISR systems.

Between E-3’s, U-2’s, RQ-4’s, etc. there’s a lot of aircraft and ground stations sharing bandwidth in that relatively small geographic location.

Google Earth’s street view works with relatively lower resolution cameras in a much smaller view space.

The cameras used on Gorgon Stare works to cover many square miles. There’s a lot of difficulty with stitching highly zoomed out images… while the aircraft is moving.

Have you ever tried doing panoramic photography? That pales compared to the Gorgon Stare system.

Have you worked a day in your life in the defense industry? Why are you so afraid to answer this question?

I thought the Air Force was reconfiguring their Systems Engineering and Developmental Testing teams. Like the old days. Back when the leaders of technical programs had technical backgrounds and degrees. These deficiencies should have been identified early.
Probably the same old powerpoint teams renamed as systems engineers, along with leaders that have History or Art degrees.

lol at the securitas line, and I work for them

Just another company stealing money from the taxpayers for a piece of junk that will get people killed. Scrap the whole project and blacklist that company. Taxpayers are getting robbed by these companies that promise the world, then site major cost overruns and then deliver junk, and we pay for it. We need to hold them and those government officials who allow this to happen accountable. Write your State offical and voice your concerns, thats the only way you can make a difference. semper fi

Reply to this post??? What an idiot. I love the REMF who know nothing of defense or the defense industry. If it has either of these titles on it, it must be EEEEVVVVIIIILLL! No one on F-35 has been told profits before quality. No one in a major contractor would last a day with that attitude. Corruption? Yeah, it is called getting an escort out the door. Failure… again, out the door. Ethics violation… out the door with possible jail time.
Go get a life. Somewhere other than in a nation where you CAN complain. Then come talk to me.




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