Pentagon to Buy More Tethered Balloons to Watch Over Afghanistan
The Pentagon has already deployed tethered aerostats -- essentially blimps tied to the ground -- to Afghanistan as part of what is called the Persistent Ground Surveillance System, which combines lighter-than-air vehicles with cameras and a ground control station. Military officials have credited the aerostats with helping cut the number of bomb attacks on U.S. and coalition forces.
"We have increased the number of various types of persistent surveillance systems -- essentially blimps and towers with optics -- from 114 this past August to 184 at the present, with plans for continued increases throughout this year," Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told a Senate panel earlier this month.
The helium-filled balloons are cheap to operate and effective, Lon Stroschein, the general manager and vice president of Raven Aerostar, which produces the aerostats, told AOL News. It costs about $600 an hour to operate an aerostat, compared to $5,000 per hour for a predator drone. The aerostat can stay up continuously, looking out up to six miles day and night to monitor roadways or forward operating bases, and only requires helium to say aloft.
Raven Aerostar now has about 15 aerostats operating with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, according to Stroschein.
"It's the same cameras and surveillance equipment [as an unmanned aerial vehicle] but for a fraction of the cost," he said.
The distinctive-looking aerostats have become so popular that the military recently announced that it wants to buy aerostats with fake sensors that could be used "to deceive insurgents with the appearance of enhanced capabilities."