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The U.S. but not only is taking a second look at the use of Aerostats for intelligence gathering.
Anyone watching from the ground in Afghanistan might have stared in astonishment at the strange battle that broke out overhead one day in 2011. A giant teardrop-shaped aerostat — 75 feet long — was speeding through the sky, out of control, carried by the furious wind. Suddenly, an F-16 fighter jet roared close and then opened fire, mangling the blimp-like dirigible, like blasting a football with a round of buckshot. Gradually, the aerostat slumped to the ground.
The $4 million surveillance platform and the F-16 were on the same side, of course, both belonging to American forces. But the Persistent Ground Surveillance System (PGSS), loaded with cameras and communications gear, had been ripped clear of its moorings and was on its way to wherever the weather took it.
According to Defense News that was just one of two aerostats lost to a storm that day, according to a Central Command report.
The shootdown was a dramatic reminder of the fragility of the lighter-than-air reconnaissance platforms that have gained in popularity in recent years.
Aerostats proved to be extremely valuable for surveillance and reconnaissance during the war in Iraq, and they are in high demand by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But the Afghan weather is taking a toll — and costing the military hundreds of millions of dollars.
Sometimes when an aerostat is ripped free, the only answer is to shoot it down.
Strong winds, powerful downdrafts, lightning, rain and even snow are damaging or destroying so many of the spy balloons that, in 2011, the Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, established a “Red Team” to analyze aerostat mishaps and try to come up with ways to prevent them.