Amy Butler
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report
Friday February 1, 2008

The Pentagon plans to fund a new electro-optical intelligence system for the U.S. Air Force beginning in fiscal 2009, according to Defense Department sources.

Dubbed “wide area surveillance,” the project stems from a prototype now operating in Iraq. The prototype system, built by the Air Force Research Laboratory and called Angel Fire, comprises multiple commercial cameras capable of collecting 1-2 frames per second. They are perched on a twin-engine, manned aircraft, which is being operated by contract personnel, the sources say.

Images collected from the cameras can be “stitched” together using computers to present a near-360-degree vantage of a wide area. They may also be displayed in rapid succession to form a product similar to video.

One reconnaissance official says this capability is useful for forensics, especially in urban areas, and it can cover nearly 4 square miles. By contrast, the Predator presents a high-resolution video capability of a smaller swath of land.

The prototype has proven the capability, but the Pentagon has decided to fund a new system that will be more producible, provide more persistence — the manned aircraft must return to base to switch crews and refuel — and include 24-hour surveillance and infrared capabilities.

“This is a mission that is well suited to an unmanned vehicle,” says Martha Evans, director for the Air Force’s information dominance acquisition office. The reconnaissance official says the production version of the system may eventually be integrated onto the Predator unmanned aircraft to give it more monitoring time on station.

A competition for the work isn’t expected for a year. In the meantime, the Air Force will sort out formal requirements, the sources said.

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