Military spy blimps used in Afghanistan will now patrol US-Mexico border

The Wall Street Journal reports that the U.S. military and border-patrol officials are teaming up on a new initiative to bring dozens of surveillance blimps from Afghanistan war zones to the Mexican border.

Over the next few weeks, the military will oversee a test in south Texas to determine if a 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.

The project is part of a broader attempt by U.S. officials to establish a high-tech surveillance network along the border and find alternative uses for expensive military hardware that will be coming back from Afghanistan, along with the troops.

In other words, hardware recycling. Read more: Battlefield Blimps to Patrol U.S.-Mexico Borders (WSJ).

Image: REUTERS. A US military blimp carrying surveillance imaging equipment flies over eastern Afghanistan, September 2011. Devices like this are being tested along the US-Mexico border.


    1. How hard is it to bring down a blimp?  Can’t you do it, albeit slowly, with a peashooter?

      1. I read that when the surveillance blimps in Afghanistan were pulled down they’d usually find them riddled with bullet holes.  I assume they don’t just collapse like toy balloons when punctured.

  1. now would be a good time to repost that link to the scholarship that shows there is no border problem with Mexico. Who has that link handy?

  2.  A large, white blimp watching Mexicans from the Air? 

    Is it supposed to be symbolic? 

  3. Isn’t there a worldwide shortage of Helium right now?  I was told it was being used for MRI machines and arc-welders… the Pentavirate strikes again.

    1. The military can afford it. All we have to do is convince schoolchildren to sacrifice their party balloons for the common good.

  4. There’s been a tethered aerostat B41 at Fort Huachuca in Arizona for over a decade, 31.48595800, -110.29569600, so what’s the big news here?

    1. Actually it’s been even longer than that, it’s been there since I was stationed at Fort Huachuca in the early 90s.   I was kinda supprised that this is concidered to be something new. 

    2. It used to watch for drug planes, but now it’ll watch for brown-skinned humans, who might as well be terrorists for all the panic they induce in fox newspeople.

  5. war — you get something out of it whether you’re being shot at or not”

    (…can’t tell if the depicted blimps are powered or just released upwind.  or maybe they’re just tethered? that’d be lame; old-gent from “Up” and the garden hose…)

    1. “Surveillance” blimp is probably more accurate. Stealthy spying is for losers who worry about getting caught, or who can’t watch everything at once and need your uncertainty about what they are watching right now to fill in the blanks.

      A spy blimp is more of an aspirational total-information-awareness tool.

      1.  i have no idea how many spy blimps they’ve got, but unless they’ve got an army of people manning the video screens, they can’t watch everything at once.

        1. You’ve identified the reason why “database mongering CS nerd” is the hottest new thing in defense industry circles…

    2. There has been one of these near Sierra Vista, AZ, about 10 miles north of the Mexican border, for decades. The rationale was that its mere presence would deter people from flying Cessnas full of pot over the border.

    3.  I’d guess that the point is that it’s ineffective, but conspicuous. The point is to keep undocumented workers intimidated, so that they don’t organize to demand better wages and working conditions.

  6. No silly drug laws = no drug smuggling. The simple and moral solution is always the best, and so you can count on the US government to pick the difficult and immoral path.

  7. It’s not a BLIMP!  It’s an AEROSTAT!

    Blimps is for kiddy-winkies, you stupid little thick-headed Saxon git!  If you want to play with blimps, get outside!

    Er, Ferdinand… that was a Minister of State you just threw out of the blimp…

    It is an AEROSTAT!

    1. I was partially wondering that myself.  The major difference between Afghanistan and the Mexican-US border is mostly those we’re fighting overseas don’t wanna be found.  While drug dealers also don’t wanna be found, they also have massive amounts of drug money and weapons that WE GAVE THEM, so what’s to stop them from blowing the darn things up?

  8. Reduce, re-use and recycle!  And all it took was a slight adjustment to the on-board brown people detector!

  9. The aerostats were/are all along the southern border, including some that peer our over the Gulf of Mexico.  They were tethered to 10,000’+ steel cables and reportedly carried radar and other surveillance equipment; however, they were not always deployed.  It was well known that drug smugglers hired a local observers near the aerostat to report whether or not the balloon was up and planned accordingly.

    There was also a report (unconfirmed) that one of the aerostats broke loose from it moorings in the 80’s, dragging its steel cables eastward across the Southern United States.  It was considered a serious threat to life and property until it was safely over the Atlantic.

    A similar incident occurred in Puerto Rico not too long ago.

    1. “There was also a report (unconfirmed) that one of the aerostats broke loose from it moorings in the 80’s, dragging its steel cables eastward across the Southern United States…”

      …grounding out everything in its path! People across the South no longer got shocked getting out of the car! Doorknobs weren’t funny anymore! There were brownouts as the cables momentarily shorted out high-tension power lines, but even as power was restored, balloons just wouldn’t stick to cats for over a week afterwards.

    2. I can confirm that the aerostat tethered in Cudjoe Key, Florida (in the lower Florida Keys), locally known as ‘Fat Albert’, continues to fly, because, as Sarah says, I can see it from my house. Google: “Tethered Aerostat Radar System”

  10. Governments in the US are fairly good at treatment of results but an abject failure on addressing causes because money can be made treating until it is cured.

    1.  Probably.  A bullet that size produces a very small hole.  During The Great War the British had a problem downing the German Zeppelins.  The bullets from the airplanes would only put small holes in the Zeppelins gasbags allowing hydrogen to leak out at an almost imperceptibly slow rate.  It wasn’t until they began using tracer bullets to ignite the escaping hydrogen that they had success.  Of course the gas in Zeppelins was at near atmospheric pressure unlike that in the aerostat.

  11. There has been a system of aerostats equipped with surveillance radars looking for drug runners along the US southern boreder since the ’80s. The earliest stations were in Florida and Grand Bahamas – looking for coke smugglers in speedboats. The first Mexican-border unit was at Ft. Huachuca in 1986.

    Since the late ’90s, the TARS (Tethered Aerostat Radar Surveillance) network operated by the Air Force has been flying Lockheed Martin 420K aerostats mounting Lockheed Martin L88 Wide-Angle Surveillance Radar units along the southern US border, from the Caribbean to the Florida Straits to the US/Mexico border.

    From the description in the article, I’d assume that this means they will now be adding Lockheede Martin 74K aerostat from the Army’s Persistent Threat Detection System (PTDS) as they come back from overseas.

    Details about both systems are on this Lockheed web page.

    1. There’s another unit outside of Deming, NM; been there since the late-80’s at least.  Local yahoos get the occasional hoot out of shooting the thing.

  12. As they say in Key West, “Fat Albert is watching.”

    Story is, the aerostat got incriminating pictures of Jimmy Buffett.

    Smoking (gasp) REEFERS.

    Oh, the HUMANITY!!

  13. Through the mid-to-late 1990’s, there was a blimp tethered to a wire in Matagorda, TX. The zephyr was run by the U.S. Air Force, and was supposed to monitor the coast and inter-coastal waterway for low flying drug planes. It was shut down eventually, for what I assume to be budgetary reasons within the USAF, or the DOD. Recently I was back home, and somebody told me that the site was going to be re-opened under a private contract.   

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