The military relies on tethered blimps to watch for insurgents around forward operating bases, but the wide-area camera systems on these aerostats are not sensitive enough to work at night. When darkness falls, operators must switch to more sensitive narrow-field-of-view cameras, which commanders fear insurgents could learn to evade.
Logos Technologies of Arlington, Va., has now delivered their first 24-hour-capable wide-area surveillance system for an aerostat — one deployed at an undisclosed forward operating base.
Logos plans to deliver a total of 10 day-night camera systems, called Kestrels, plus six spares, by the end of June. The work is being done under a $55 million contract with Naval Air Systems Command, which is procuring the Kestrels for the Marine Corps and Army.
Each Kestrel system contains six cameras for scanning city-sized areas in 360 degrees. Five Kestrels will be installed on Persistent Threat Detection System aerostats and five will be installed on slightly smaller Persistent Ground Surveillance System aerostats. Kestrels will conduct surveillance around forward operating bases and provide overwatch during training of Afghan forces, said John Marion, Logos’ director for persistent surveillance technologies.
Logos began working on Kestrel after top Army and ISR Task Force officials put in an urgent request in 2010 to equip aerostats with wide-area systems similar to those on the Constant Hawk surveillance turboprops. To get something fielded quickly, Logos rushed four-day versions to the field and got to work on the electro-optical/infrared versions that are about to replace them, Marion said. The four-day-only versions will be replaced and then the capability will be expanded to other aerostat sites.
When Kestrel detects a suspicious target, it cues in the aerostat’s finer-resolution, full-motion video camera. On PGSS, that means an L-3 Wescam MX-15, whereas the PTDS aerostats are equipped with MX-20s.
“What we see as blobs moving, the MX can look and say, “That’s a person carrying a gun or digging a hole,” Marion said. “While they’re looking at that, we can figure out where they came from.”
Kestrel tiles together more than 100 images from its six cameras over each second. Kestrel also records every event in a monitored area for up to 30 days.