World News

U.S. ramps up aerial spying for Afghan surge

German soldiers launch an unmanned drone 'KZO' aircraft in the German camp in Kunduz August 23, 2009. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will deploying new “eyes in the sky” surveillance technology next year in Afghanistan to back President Barack Obama’s surge of 30,000 additional forces, a top Air Force official said on Wednesday.

Lieutenant General David Deptula, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said a new spying weapon called “Gorgon Stare” will allow the U.S. military to track multiple targets at the same time.

It will send up to 10 video streams simultaneously to 10 different users on the ground “within a wide area.” Deptula said he expected the first Gorgon Stare “pods” fielded by April-May. Later models arriving by October will handle up to 30 video streams and subsequent versions will provide up to 65 streams.

They will be fitted onto MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are manufactured by privately held General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, but not older, MQ-1 models.

“Gorgon Stare will be put on the MQ-9s, which is why the United States Air Force will be buying more MQ-9s not more MQ-1s. Because the MQ-9 can carry Gorgon Stare pod, the MQ-1 cannot,” he said.

His comments came days after the Air Force and Lockheed Martin Corp acknowledged use of a new radar-evading drone over Afghanistan, which is formally called the RQ-170 but has been dubbed the “Beast of Kandahar.”

Deptula refused to discuss the details of the top-secret aircraft, telling reporters: “I’m not going to say anything more, other than: We have an RQ-170. It’s a low-observable ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) platform.”

An Air Force fact sheet said the new pilotless aircraft was controlled remotely from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. That is where Air Force pilots also control the service’s fleet of Predator drones, which are also built by General Atomics.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Steve Orlofsky