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.