Aberdeen Proving Ground Proposed as Site for Surveillance Balloons


WASHINGTON (Oct. 4, 2013)—The U.S. Army this week asked the Federal Aviation Administration to approve the addition of two new surveillance blimps at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen.

According to a proposal published in the Federal Register, the Army has proposed that the FAA set up new restricted airspace over Aberdeen Proving Ground to place the military surveillance blimps.

Specifically known as aerostats, these 243-foot blimps will be maintained 24/7 at 9,950 feet in the air over Aberdeen, and will be visible from the ground.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a security information website, said these aerostats are extremely convenient and cost effective.

“If I’m building a tower made of steel, I’m not going to get much beyond 1,500 feet in the air,” Pike said. “At that height it just gets too rickety. But with an aerostat, I can get as high as 60,000 feet in the air, and the higher up I am, the more I can see.”

Pike said military bases often put cameras or radars on these aerostats, providing a wide range of detection and vision for catching incoming enemy infiltration.

The aerostat balloons do not require much construction, motors or fuel. They are kept stationary by a simple tethering cable and left buoyant, which according to Pike, makes them one of the most cost-effective radar systems available.

However, these wired blimps can cause harm to aerial navigation, and thus require a restricted air zone. Lighting the cables would be impractical.

Maj. Beth Smith, a spokesperson for the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said the military reservation in Aberdeen was the best fit for these aerostats due to its vicinity to the nation’s capital and because it already has restricted airspace, “causing near-zero adjustment of civil air traffic corridors near D.C. and Baltimore.”

The new balloons require extending the existing restricted airspace higher because they need to float at nearly 10,000 feet.

Smith said these specific aerostats would contain a wide-area surveillance radar system.

“It enables protection from cruise missiles, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, large caliber rockets and surface moving targets,” said Smith. “[The aerostat] takes advantage of its altitude to achieve a greater coverage range than other ground-based sensors.”

The use of these aerostats, set to begin in September 2014 barring any funding issues, is only an exercise for assessing system capabilities, and is scheduled to last for three years, Smith said.

A final decision on the request for restricted airspace, will be made after the debate and comment period for the proposal is closed in November.

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