Where did Constant Hawk come from?

Constant Hawk is an Army-sponsored wide-area electro-optic sensor program that has been deployed in support of combat operations in the Middle East since 2006. Flown on a medium altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the value proposition of the Constant Hawk sensor system has to do with its ability to instantaneously surveil large areas at a resolution sufficient to characterize individual moving targets on the ground. Think about it in terms of being able to collect dynamic imagery of entire city-sized areas – a live Google Earth if you will.

This type of imagery intelligence has fundamentally changed the way that the military thinks about and conducts aerial surveillance operations. Historically, imaging sensors were limited to surveilling known locations of interest – in order to gather useful intelligence, you first had to know where to point the sensor. But what happens when you don’t know where the threat will manifest itself ahead of time?

With Constant Hawk, it was no longer necessary to know where to point the sensor, since it’s effectively looking everywhere all of the time. All you needed to know was where to search in the imagery data to find what you are looking for. But enough about that. What I really want to talk about is how Constant Hawk came about. After all, a technology of this significance – one that has spawned a wave of follow-on efforts and fundamentally changed how DoD conducts aerial surveillance – must have been the result of years of costly research by some super secret Government laboratory, right?

Wrong. And the real answer sends goose bumps down the spine of every large Defense contractor. You see, the Constant Hawk sensor system is based on an technology that some enterprising scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory borrowed from the movie industry. If you’re interested in experiencing first hand the Constant Hawk technology, just take a look at the expansive panoramic shots in Jurassic Park 3. Chalk one up for Hollywood.

The first generation Constant Hawk sensor system – dubbed Project Sonoma by the original developers at Lawrence Livermore – was nearly identical to the movie camera from which it was derived. And the technology remained virtually unchanged when the Army took over in 2004 with the immediate predecessor effort to Constant Hawk, a program called Mohawk Stare.

So, what I am getting at here is that the magic of Constant Hawk had nothing to do with fundamental R&D driven by the Defense industry. Instead, it emerged as a result of some creative types at Lawrence Livermore and the Army spotting an interesting technology in the commercial marketplace and dreaming up a novel application of that technology. And let me tell you, the entrenched interests in the Defense industry don’t like the implications of this model – not one bit. But make no mistake, this is the future of innovation in Defense, and the firms that perfect an ability to look outside of the insular Defense ecosystem towards sources of commercial innovation will be the next market leaders.

An Army OV-1D aircraft equipped with a Mohawk Stare sensor pod

8 responses to “Where did Constant Hawk come from?

  1. What happened to your “13 point front” rant?
    Couldnt take the heat?
    If you’re going to blog and stick out there, you shouldnt retract.

    • Amen to that. To be completely honest, my wife yelled at me for “biting the hand that feeds me.” She’s got a point. I’m not going to retract anything I said, but I’ve probably got to be more judicious in documenting my “observations” – or at a minimum not be so shrill about it. I do get fired up when it comes to things like that – as should every citizen.

  2. Is this Gorgon Stare? or yet another side-effect of Dreamworks/LucasStarWars repoorposing?

    • Actually it’s not. Constant Hawk predated Gorgon Stare and Angel Fire. But all of these programs have a common pedigree. Actually, I put together a graphic some time ago showing the common lineage of all the wide-area EO/IR sensor programs in DoD. Let me run it past my GC and find out if there are any issues with releasing it on the blog. You would find it interesting.

      • Greetings Jay Harrison,

        I for one would be most interested in seeing a history time line of both “when” and “who” came up with the Gorgon Stare, Please be specific as possible in regards to both.

      • I’ll write a post that addresses GS sometime this week.

  3. Greetings,

    I’m the guy that ask about the gorgon stare time line the other day. It looks like we have something in common; I’m Ambush380 in the conversation at
    http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?152929-New-Reaper-sensors-offer-a-bigger-picture if you’d like to talk my e-mail address in mikeleard88@yahoo.com

    kind regards

  4. Hey,

    It was a good write up! And I’m thinking it’ll be very nice of you if you can send me the graphic containing the common lineage of all the wide area EO/IR sensor programs in DoD as I’m trying to read up more on this area. If that’s not possible due to issues, that’s fine no worries.

    Thanks in advance for your help.


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