These inflatables powered by solar energy, have been in use for years and could be used to combat Russia and China.
Politico reports that the Pentagon will dramatically increase its spending on stratospheric Aerostats. These aerostats are being seen as capable of boosting US capability against Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles.
Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture, also known as COLD STAR (Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture), was initially designed to identify drug dealers. In 2019, the Pentagon began testing 25 balloons in South Dakota. This was a pilot project.
The outlet said that the inflatables were being made available for military use and are promoted to be a cost-effective tool to supplement satellites and spy drones. This is based on budget documentation. While the Pentagon acknowledged that this was happening, they declined to share any specifics.
In the two previous years, US military balloon projects have cost approximately $3.8M. But, for fiscal 2023, funding will jump to $27.1M, Politico reported, citing budget documents.
Raven Aerostar (a Raven Industries division) is the producer of these balloons. It claims its platform for surveillance, communication and equipment provides months of endurance at fractions of the price of other options such as satellite systems or high-altitude aircraft. The aerostats are able to identify favorable air currents and drift where they’re needed.
The company previously collaborated with Alphabet, the parent company of Google, on its ‘Loon Balloons’ project. This idea involved floating communication hubs, which would allow broadband internet access for remote areas. This project was noted for its efforts in Puerto Rico to restore mobile Internet service after Hurricane Maria. In January 2021, it was closed.
JLENS, a different program for tethered spy-blimps was previously run by the Pentagon. Politico reported that it was first launched in 2010 and then canceled after costing nearly $2Billion. They were designed to deliver intelligence to the ground troops of the United States and carried fire-control and surveillance radars.
The US Army’s testing of the Raytheon-built inflatables was marred by an incident in 2015, when a helium-filled aerostat broke from its mooring in Maryland and drifted into Pennsylvania, before finally coming down three hours later. The long tether that held it down to the ground caused damage, while F-16 fighter planes swarmed around.
Israel is another country that has a lot of experience with small aerostats used for military purposes. In March, it began testing large-tethered drones. This aircraft was designed to detect cruise missiles and was created by Israel Aerospace Industries’ Elta division. The balloon was provided by American company TCOM.