These could be the latest version of the rarely seen before Gorgon Stare (formerly known as the Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System – WAAS), a pod-based sensor package used to track people, vehicles, and objects in areas of +10 square kilometers.
The ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) pod is integrated in a networked imagery distribution system to provide hi-resolution, real-time full motion video of activities of interest.
Usually, a Gorgon Stare system is made of two pods, one carrying networking and communications equipment, the other with Visible/IR Camera Arrays and Image Processing module: interestingly, the MQ-9 shown in the picture carries two seemingly identical pods (with EO/IR turrets).
The An-124 has become something of a regular visitor to El Centro, moving helicopters from a number of NATO forces (such as British, Danish, Dutch and German) to the local base where they train in “hot and high” conditions prior to deployments to Afghanistan.
El Centro’s ready access to large ranges with desert and mountainous terrain (Chocolate Mountains and Yuma, AZ range) make it an ideal location for cost effective pre-deployment training. Aircraft can depart El Centro and be on range within a matter of minutes making helicopter training particularly efficient.
Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.
An interesting gallery of U.S. Air Force’s A-10s being refueled over Afghanistan.
Taken on Jul. 10, 2014, the images in this post show U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, refueled over Eastern Afghanistan by a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar July 10, 2014.
The A-10’s armored fuselage, maneuverability at slow speeds and low altitude has made the Thunderbolt (known as Warthog by its pilots) one of the best (if not the best) CAS (Close Air Support) asset throughout Operation Enduring Freedom (and several more operations, including Desert Storm).
At least seven Taliban militants were killed following a NATO air raid Afghanistan. Noteworthy, a sign of the developing operation may have been a U.S. Air Force E-11A BACN plane orbiting over southeasern Ghazni province, clearly visible on Flightradar24.com.
Although many military aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders they are usually turned off during real war operations. In fact, by automatically broadcasting the plane’s callsign, GPS position, speed and altitude, these special transponders provide information about the plane can be received by ground stations, by other nearby aircraft (thus enhancing situational awareness) and also by commercial off-the-shelf or home-built receivers.
Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder have a network of several hundred feeders around the world who make the flight information received by their home kits available for anybody on their websites, or by means of their smartphone apps.
Three years later, a U.S. plane involved in war mission over Afghanistan could be monitored for several hours as it circled at 41,000 feet to the southeast of Ghazni.
The aircraft did not broadcast its mission callsign, but based on the hex code FR24 could identify it as a Bombardier Global 6000 aircraft, an advanced ultra long-range business jet that has been modified by the U.S. Air Force to accomodate Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) payload.
Within the U.S. Air Force, the modified jet is designated E-11A.
BACN is technological “gateway” system that allows aircraft with incompatible radio systems and datalinks to exchange tactical information and communicate.
By orbiting at high-altitude, BACN equipped air assets provide a communications link from ground commanders to their allies in the sky regardless of the type of the supporting aircraft and in a non-line-of-sight (LOS) environment. In the rugged, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, troops are not always able to establish LOS communications with close support aircraft overhead and moving position or relocating to higher ground could be fatal. In such situation, a legacy USAF A-10 attack aircraft could loiter away from the battlefield while using the BACN link to communicate with a special-forces Joint Terminal Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground until all targeting information is ready before “un-masking” and beginning an attack run.
The BACN system is also deployed onboard EQ-4B Global Hawk UAVs.
The video of the Taliban handing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl over to the US military in Afghanistan reveals the presence of several assets, including some spooky King Air 300s.
Even if both parties had probably agreed almost every detail of the handover, the video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being released by the Taliban shows that the U.S. military took some further measures to ensure that the meeting would not turn into an ambush.
U.S. Army King Air 300s, known as MARSS, Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System, perform ELINT (Electronic Intelligence), COMINT (Communication Intelligence), direction finding as well as Full Motion Video broadcasting to patrols on the ground.
These Army planes are particularly important for counter-IED operations during which they fly overwatch sorties along travel routes ahead of ground convoys to detect any suspect insurgent activity or side bomb sign.
Their role in the handover scene was similar: they were monitoring the rendez-vous point, scanning the gestures of any Taliban in the valley to see if the meeting was actually an ambush to blow up the helicopter, possibly in front of the camera.
Even the U.S. individual who first meets Bergdahl seems to check his body for a suicide vest or something like that.
H/T to Brian Ostrander for sending us the link to the above video.