Blackjack Drones Get New, More Sophisticated Surveillance Sensor


If you are into all things military, you might be pleased to learn that the Navy just took delivery of two prototype wide-area motion imagery (WAMI) sensors designed for its Blackjack drones. The new sensors significantly increase the drones’ surveillance capabilities by giving them a wide-area view of up to five square miles.

Navy officials are understandably excited about the capabilities of the new sensor. It makes the Blackjack all that more effective as a surveillance drone on the battlefield. It gives the U.S. forces the upper hand by allowing them a greater field of vision from the air.

More About the Sensor

The WAMI sensor is derived from a specific form of reconnaissance that relies on specialized software and technically advanced camera systems to monitor large areas of real estate, according to Rock West Solutions, a California company that specializes in signal processing and sensor development for defense applications.

WAMI sensors are more than just highly advanced video cameras. They have the ability to monitor all sorts of movement for miles, regardless of the time of day or night – all from the air. They are often combined with full-motion video (FMV) for maximum surveillance.

FMV cameras are particularly good at what they do. They offer high-resolution images and impressive zoom capabilities. But as one expert cited by a recent Defense News story explained, the view from an FMV camera is a lot like looking through a drinking straw. The WAMI sensor gives a much wider view over a much larger area.

Combining the Technologies

Navy officials are excited about their new sensors because combining them with existing FMV capabilities only improves airborne surveillance. The WAMI sensors can keep an eye on the largest area of real estate while FMV can zoom in and take detailed video when necessary. Combining the two is essentially having the best of both worlds on a single drone.

More importantly, a visual range of 5 miles really ups the surveillance game for the U.S. Navy. It doesn’t hurt that the Blackjack can stay airborne for some 16 hours with a flight range of up to 50 km. On-board storage allows for up to six hours of video storage while the drone can also transmit video signals to ground receivers in real-time.

It all adds up to more effective surveillance. Having so many electronic eyes in the sky gives U.S. ground forces a better understanding of what lies before them at any point on the battlefield. It allows our forces to monitor enemy movements even when battlefields are inactive. WAMI is just a great tool for keeping an eye on the enemy in anticipation of future conflict.

A War of Sensors

The good folks at Rock West Solutions say that the prototype sensors now being tested by the Navy are a precursor of things to come. Indeed, they are neither the first nor the last sensors developed for defense applications. Modern warfare is, for all intents and purposes, a war of sensors. The side with the most sophisticated sensors is likely to prevail.

This is one of the primary reasons the U.S. military cannot stop investing in new technologies. Now that the proverbial finger has been removed from the dike, there is no stopping the technological flood. Our enemies will be waging future wars armed with the latest technology. If we refuse to keep up, we will be losers in the next great conflict.

While we contemplate that, the Navy has some work to do. Hopefully, their new WAMI sensors turn out to be everything they are advertised to be.

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