Task Force Rakkasan Puts New 'Eye in the Sky'
(July 11, 2010)
|July 6, 2010 -- Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! Actually, it's a multi-million dollar helium-filled aerostat (balloon) equipped with the most advanced surveillance technology and it's the latest tool added to Task Force Rakkasan's arsenal.|
The large, odd-shaped, blimp-like white balloon was launched for the first time here July 1. Since then it has been hovering high in the sky raising a few eyebrows and expectations.
“We have not had a persistent [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capability before now, and I think an asset like this is going to be a game changer,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Viet Luong, commander, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky. “I'm a big advocate for these platforms
Dave Dobbins, an aerostat technician from Augusta, Ga., connects cables to the bottom of an aerostat at FOB Salerno July 1, 2010.
|and I've used them very effectively in Iraq.”|
|The aerostat, or Persistent Ground Surveillance System, provides the local battlefield commander a 24-hour-a-day “eyes-on” capability to survey and closely monitor the battle space and any possible enemy activities using high-definition, infrared and thermal imaging technology.|
“This system is a big ‘eye in the sky' that lets us know what the enemy is doing as he is doing it,” said U.S. Army Col. Altrus Campbell, persistent surveillance capabilities manager, Headquarters, Department of the Army, from Panama City, Fla. “It lets us see pretty much anything the enemy does from emplacing [improvised explosive devices] to setting up an ambush.”
The aerostat here is about 17-meters-long, can carry an equipment payload of about 500 pounds and operates at a high elevation, usually above 1,000 feet.
It is comprised of four basic components.
The first component is the balloon itself. It is a pressurized, helium-filled, completely flexible structure fabricated from a high-strength multi-layer fabric designed for long-term use in all types of environments. It has an on-board computer system and air bladder to compensate for changing air temperatures and ensures the balloon maintains its aerodynamic shape.
The second component is the tether. The tether is a cable connecting the aerostat to the mooring system below and keeping the aerostat in place. It is comprised of electrical cabling to provide power to the onboard computer systems and fiber-optics that provide secure and reliable communications and control to the ground.
The third component is the mooring system, which is basically a portable trailer that is anchored in place and allows the aerostat to swing in a 360-degree circle without twisting or binding the tether. It also helps manoeuvre the aerostat during launch and recovery operations in all kinds of weather.
The final component, and arguably the most valuable to the Army, is the camera systems and the surveillance equipment the aerostats carry. Although the specifics of the systems are classified, it is known they allow the user to see enemy activities clearly from miles away at any time of day or night.
Although the systems can range in price from $6 million to more than $20 million, Campbell says the service they provide is invaluable.
“It's difficult to put a price tag on the life of a Soldier or on the success of a mission,” he said. “These systems, although costly, have proven their worth time and time again by helping to ensure mission success and saving Soldiers lives on the battlefield.”
Another way they have proven their worth is the effect they have traditionally had on enemy operations.
“There are many success stories from these systems in Iraq,” said Campbell. “Statistics have shown that when the balloon is in the sky, enemy activities in the area drop significantly.”
Even the smallest of the aerostats are large and can be seen from very far away. Many people think they make easy targets for the enemy and can be shot down with just a few rounds of an AK-47. According to Campbell that is not the case.
“A lot of people think if you shoot the balloon it will explode or pop and that's not true,” he said. “The pressure inside the balloon is close to the pressure on the outside, so even if a round penetrates it, it will not explode or pop, it will just have a very slow leak which is easily repaired.”
Campbell continued saying that having the enemy shoot at the aerostat is actually encouraged. “We like it when enemy forces shoot at the balloon,” he said. “Because when they do; it tells us exactly where they are.”
Several aerostats have already been emplaced across Afghanistan and more are on the way.
|Article and photo by Army Sgt. Brent Powell |
Combined Joint Task Force 101
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