Blimp networks guard US troops

Army officials are using unmanned blimps geared up with networked sensors to monitor and protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The towers and unmanned blimps, called aerostats, worked so well at detecting and identifying enemy forces and objects that Defense Department officials want to buy more of them. "We wouldn't have gotten the funding if it wasn't successful," said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, director of Army systems management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Sorsenson spoke Oct. 7 at a Pentagon media briefing.

Army officials obtained $38 million in fiscal 2004 for 22 towers and aerostats for surveillance use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 84-foot-towers and 15-meter aerostats use the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) system to monitor the perimeter of the service's bases there, said Col. Kurt Heine, project manager of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor, whose program oversees the force protection effort.

The RAID system consists of towers, aerostats, sensors and an operations center. The towers and aerostats carry an electro-optical and infrared sensor that detects enemy forces and objects at day or night. The sensors obtain the images then transmit them via a radio frequency to an operations center, which sends them via a network to warfighters and analysts for review and action, Heine said.

Link to Federal Computer Week story.

And BoingBoing reader Allan Janus says,

We had an Army airship flying around the Washington DC area, testing RAID, a couple of weeks ago – I even got into trouble taking pictures of it while on the US Capitol grounds. By the way, an aerostat is a tethered balloon – they may be blimp-shaped so they're stable in the wind, though.

Richard Thompson, a cartoonist for the Washington Post, had a wonderful cartoon on the blimp – I have it on my website, since the Post doesn't put his drawings online: Link. I also posted some of my photos of the blimp, and the sorry story of my encounter with the Feds – it's at 29 September: Link