A Peek at Secretive Firm Behind Failing “Gorgon Stare” Surveillance Technology
Ellen Nakashima reports in the Washington Post that the “Gorgon Stare” surveillance technology that was first discussed in early January now appears to be failing to meet its design specifications but still is likely to be deployed to Afghanistan late this winter. Nakasihima’s report notes that the technology is being developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation, which has headquarters in Sparks, Nevada.
From the Post:
Air Force field testers concluded in a draft report that a new wide-area surveillance system for use with remotely piloted aircraft is “not operationally effective” and should not be fielded, but Air Force officials said Monday they expect the system will still be deployed by late winter in Afghanistan.
A Dec. 30 report by the Air Force’s 53rd Wing Group at Eglin Air Force Base said that the new system, dubbed Gorgon Stare, had “significant limitations,” including an inability to track people on the ground in real time, and a delay in sending real-time images to the ground.
But, despite not being “operationally effective”, it’s still “full speed ahead” from Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen for this project:
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, is still “in favor of fielding this capability as soon as practicable, with the expectation that any technical issues would and could be adjusted and modified once it was in the field,” said Capt. John Kirby, his spokesman.
Mullen seems to be saying that a few more innocent civilian deaths while the system gets “adjusted and modified” is a price worth paying, rather than forcing the developers to meet their technology goals before deployment.
For a technology to be receiving such a push from the highest levels despite not being functional and with its potential failures certain to exact more grief in US relations with civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is only natural to assume that the company involved must have some pretty powerful political juice behind it. Sierra Nevada Corporation reveals almost nothing about its management at its website, but an April, 2007 article in the Las Vegas Sun confirms that the company does use significant political clout to get lucrative, secret, no-bid contracts:
Through its political connections and cutting-edge technology, primarily in unmanned aircraft and guidance systems, Sierra Nevada has doubled in size since 2001 to 1,000 employees and received more than $600 million in government contracts from the Air Force, most of which were obtained without competitive bidding .
“Sierra Nevada has some technical chops,” said Stephen Trimble, bureau chief of North and South America for the worldwide Jane’s Information Group, a defense industry authority. “This isn’t a fly-by-night corporation.”
Trimble, who is based in Washington, said the company is well-known in the industry but keeps a low profile, rarely putting out news releases or showing up at industry trade shows.
“One assumes they do a lot of the work that we’re not privy to,” he said. “It’s fairly known around the industry that they get a lot of money in the ‘black world.’ ”
The black world is an industry term for what’s known as black budget money earmarked by Congress that can be handed out for military projects without bidding and without a full public explanation.
The company has its own PAC to fuel its political spending. Details of how the PAC funds are on a steady growth curve can be seen here at Open Secrets. The firm itself is fairly large, stating on the home page of the website that they have about 2100 employees, meaning they have doubled again since the 2007 article quoted above. Their locations are spread throughout the country, as seen in the screenshot above from their website.
I couldn’t find any public domain photos of Fatih and Eren Ozmen, who appear to share the CEO title, but there is a photo they have reproduced here in a press release on their website.
That is the sad state of military procurement today. Firms enrich themselves on secret, no-bid contracts and then face no consequences when they fail to meet their goals. Top officials push defective technology into battle before it is ready and then profess amazement when the technology fails. A portion of the proceeds from the lucrative contracts is poured back into the political system in Washington to fuel even more and larger secret, no-bid contracts coming to the same people who have failed. What could possibly go wrong?