Walking Back the Cat: The US Army’s Constant Hawk
The US Army’s Constant Hawk program feeds into 2 big trends. One is the need to create systems that dip into the gushing firehose of data from UAVs, aircraft, ground-mounted stations like GBOSS/RAID, etc., in order to create information that people can use. “Too Much Information: Taming the UAV Data Explosion” covered some aspects of those efforts, and the critical area of “change detection” is an additional element.
US Army Program Manager – Aerial Common Sensor’s (PM ACS) Constant Hawk program is one of several change detection systems in operation, in the service of the second big trend: the drive to find solutions to the land mine problem, which has been the #1 killer in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
What Is Constant Hawk?
That’s actually a bit of a trick question.
You could say that Constant Hawk is its visible aerial platforms: Shorts 360-300 short takeoff transports, which also serve in the US Army as the C-23, were equipped with a range of surveillance payloads in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the contractor chose the same King Air 350 twin turboprops that serve as the Army’s new MC-12W Liberty light surveillance aircraft. Details of Constant Hawk’s equipment set remain murky, however, beyond notes concerning a 96 megapixel camera as part of the sensor suite, and suggestions that LIDAR is used.
A more expansive view would add the UAV and ground sensors that are reportedly part of the Constant Hawk network. Again, details are deliberately murky, but RAID tower stations and other fixed installations also watch key convoy routes and areas, and change detection using UAVs has been used on several occasions in Iraq.
The real heart of Constant Hawk, however, is embodied in the innocuous term “change detection.” That happens when data from key sensors is coupled to programs that can sort through video to find the exact same location at different dates, then present them together. The human operators can pick which areas they want to look at, then compare the pictures to look at differences such as, say, disturbed earth. That would indicate a possible land mine, just as a car suddenly parked in a key area may mean a VBIED car bomb. Finding those changes may then trigger other investigations. Or, if the event has already happened, it may trigger a search back through the archives to pinpoint exactly when and how things changed.
That ability is a factor of software and math, leading StrategyPage to dub Constant Hawk an “attack of the math machine.”
The ability to run post-event analysis may seem like “too little, too late,” but it has been used to trace back and catch the people planting bombs, and to understand their patterns and methods. In an unrelated but far more public example, similar post-event analysis methods were used by the UAE to piece together the Mossad hit on Hamas terrorist Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai, and release video camera still photos of many alleged participants.
Constant Hawk is the US Army’s system, but it isn’t the only system in theater. The US Marines have a system called “Angel Fire,” and the USAF calls its system “Highlighter”. There are also reports that the British fielded change detection software during a trial of BAE’s Herti UAV in theater.
Contracts & Key Events
Work will be performed in Fredericksburg, VA, with an estimated completion date of June 26/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD (W15P7T-11-C-H001).
Sept 29/11: L-3 Communications Corp. in Greenville, TX receives a $12.6 million cost-plus-firm-fixed contract modification to integrate 2 HawkerBeechcraft King Air 350ER planes, so they’re equipped to support the US Army’s Constant Hawk Program.
Work will be performed in Greenville, TX, and is expected to be complete by July 2012. This competition was competitively procured via direct solicitation by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division in Crane, IN (N00164-11-C-JQ93, PO 0019).
April 25/11: EOIR Technologies in Fredericksburg, VA receives a $46.4 million contract modification (W15P7T-10-D-A804) to continue operations and maintenance of 4 Constant Hawk air platforms in Afghanistan.
Work performance location will be determined with each task order, with an estimated completion date of Oct 21/11. The Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD manages the contract (see March 24/11 entry).
April 7/11: Jorge Scientific Corp. in Arlington, VA receives a $54.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to operate and maintain Constant Hawk – Iraq intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services until Aug 31/11. One bid was solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Adelphi, MD (W911QX-10-C-0082).
What Jorge provides is a more or less turnkey intelligence service. Jorge is Constant Hawk – Iraq’s lead integrator, and also provides all of the operational, program management and maintenance support. That includes tactical and flight operations; aviation safety, petroleum, oils, and lubricants (POL) operations; aviation life support equipment (ALSE), aircraft, and ground support equipment maintenance; sensor integration and management; and imagery analysis and archiving.
March 24/11: US FedBizOpps:
“ACC-APG (C4ISR) plans to award a Period of Performance (PoP) extension on a sole-source basis with EOIR Technologies [DID: link added] for the “Continuation on Operations for Constant Hawk-Afghanistan (CH-A)”. The current six (6) month Cost-Plus-Fixed-Fee (CPFF) Task Order (TO) 0001 under the Quick Reaction Engineering for Warfighter Sensors (QREWS) Multiple Award Contract (MAC), Number W15P7T-10-D-A804, was awarded as an Undefinitized Contract Action (UCA) to EOIR on 29 September 2010 to provide continued operations and maintenance of the four inherently military, modified Constant Hawk-Afghanistan (CH-A) air platforms. The proposed extension will be a three (3) month, CPFF, modification with an anticipated cost of $18.92M.
Contract W15P7T-10-D-A804/0001 was awarded sole source to EOIR pursuant to the authority of 10 U.S.C. 2304c and FAR Part 16.505(b)(2)(i). This statutory exception to competition applies when the need for a service is so urgent that offering a fair opportunity would result in unacceptable delays.”
Sept 24/10: Jorge Scientific Corp. in Arlington, VA receives an $8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee change order cost overrun contract for operations and maintenance of Constant Hawk (Iraq) until Aug 30/11. One bid was solicited, with one received by the Research Development & Engineering Command Contracting Center in Adelphi, MD (W911QX-08-D-0005; Serial #2027).
April 22/10: US FedBizOpps sources sought #W911W5CHAWK has a title that pretty much describes it:
“Constant Hawk analysis to include Geospatial Analysis, Imagery Analysis, Full Motion Video, All-source Analysis, and Signal Intelligence Analysis in support of Counter Improvised Explosive Device Targeting Program (CITP).”
Oct 7/09: Aviation Week covers L-3 Communications’ $99 million February 2009 contract for initial configuration of 4 King Air 350 turboprops with Constant Hawk technologies, deployment of 3 planes to the Afghan front, and operation of the aircraft and their 96 megapixel cameras and other sensors and electronics.
The pilots, maintainers, intelligence analysis and support officials will all be L-3 employees, and it will own the hardware and ground station. First flight of the modified King Airs is planned for January 2010, and deployment is envisioned for July 2010.
Jorge Scientific Corp. is L-3’s prime contractor counterpart for the parallel Constant Hawk – Iraq.
- GlobalSecurity – Constant Hawk
- Spyflight – Shorts 360-300 Constant Hawk. The program also reportedly uses ground-mounted sensors, and King Air 350s are used in Afghanistan.
- Jorge Scientitic Corp. – Constant Hawk. They run Constant Hawk in Iraq.
- DID – Task Force ODIN: In the Valleys of the Blind… Constant Hawk was, and is, part of a larger whole.
- Armada International, via L-3 (February 2010) – ISR in Afghanistan: SR Easier than I [PDF]
- Aviation Week (Oct 7/09) – L-3 Building Its Private ISR Force: Constant Hawk Afghanistan
- StrategyPage (Oct 17/08) – Angel Fire Toasts Constant Hawk. USMC reportedly picks the USAF solution, which uses wider-area sensors.
- StrategyPage (Oct 12/07) – Constant Hawk Versus Angel Fire Deathmatch
- US Military (Nov 20/06) – Constant Hawk aims to thwart improvised explosive devices
- Flight International (Aug 22/06) – Shorts 360 Constant Hawk system heads for Iraqi theatre. Based on the civilian counterpart of the C-23 Sherpa.
- DID – US Army Awards Top 10 Inventions of 2006. Constant Hawk is a winner.