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The Military Technology

Blimps To Help Protect Washington DC From Air Attack 270

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Reuters reports that a pair of bulbous, helium-filled 'aerostats', each 243 feet long, will be moored to the ground and fly as high as 10,000 feet, as part of a high-tech shield designed to protect the Washington D.C. area from an air attack like the one that took place on September 11, 2001. One of the aerostats carries a powerful long-range surveillance radar with a 360-degree look-around capability that can reach out to 340 miles. The other carries a radar used for targeting. Operating for up to 30 days at a time, JLENS is meant to give the military more time to detect and react to threats (PDF), including cruise missiles and manned and unmanned aircraft, compared with ground-based radar and is also designed to defend against tactical ballistic missiles, large caliber rockets and moving vehicles that could be used for attacks, including boats, cars and trucks. 'We're trying to determine how the surveillance radar information from the JLENS platforms can be integrated with existing systems in the National Capital Region,' says Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Washington is currently guarded by an air-defense system that includes Federal Aviation Administration radars and Department of Homeland Security helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft on alert at Reagan National Airport to intercept slow, low-flying aircraft."
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Blimps To Help Protect Washington DC From Air Attack

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  • Scary Blimps (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:00AM (#42807661)

    The designers should give the blimps a dark steampunk look so that visitors to DC can pretend like they are in a euro-WWII-alternate-timeline story.

    • Haha thought the same thing. But is the white and shiny word of Mirror's Edge that much less bad because it doesn't look evil?

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:03AM (#42807691) Homepage

    1984 appears to be rocketing right along as movie-turned-reality. instead of addressing foreign policy mistakes we've taken to bubblewrapping and tripwiring the nation until americans stop worrying about it and learn to love the terror

    the good news i guess is DC is going to start looking a lot more like bladerunner, and if we're lucky it will mean eventually, just maybe, i can order chinese from a blimp chop suey shop like corbin dallas.
    although im not entirely looking forward to the Judge Dredd approach to criminal justice, i am admittedly kind of excited to see the voice-activated guns and flying motorcycles :)

    • Nope, this is definitely a Dr Who plot, the mother-ship is a giant air ship in the shape of a Dylect(sic?), it will be arriving any day now.
    • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@NoSpam.gmail.com> on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:33AM (#42808011) Journal

      Judge Dredd is a real thing, but he's a semi-autonomous flying robot and he has a lot less respect for due process than the fictional character...

    • Blade Runner is the one with Harrison Ford, I think they use a blimp at one point for advertising living on other planets but beyond that the blimps aren't really a fixture. As blimps are, today (and before the movie came out), used for advertising, that's not really a prediction of the future.

      Corbin Dallas orders his meal from a blimp in The Fifth Element. While again blimps don't make other appearances (from memory) in that movie, the unusual (by 21st century standards) nature of the interaction, appar

    • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:17AM (#42808541) Homepage

      First off, 1984 started off as a book, so it'd really be a book-turned-reality, but it's not even that.

      The scary part of 1984 isn't the surveillance. That's just the most visible aspect that everyone talks about. The villain of the story is the government that fears its people so much that it resorts to mind control as a means of keeping peace. Mind control is a tricky thing, though, so extreme scarcity and enforced conformity are used to rein in any dissent. Surveillance is just a tool the government uses to look for that dissent.

      The book hints at the possibility that the world is actually not at war, but the ongoing conflicts are actually staged to justify the artificial scarcity. Even Goldstein's underground rebellion may be a hoax perpetrated by the government to expose any rebellious tendencies. Those that are caught are tortured to break their minds, stripping away conscious thought and logic until assertions can be made without resistance. That's when the victim knows that there really is no viable escape, no higher purpose, and not even any nobility in life or death.

      Every title in 1984 is ironic. The Ministry of Plenty restricts supplies, the Ministry of Love tortures, the Ministry of Peace plans the wars, the Ministry of Truth distributes lies... and Big Brother is not a loving familial support, but rather an oppressive embodiment of an anti-social Socialist government.

      The fully-converted mindless drones of Ingsoc merely survive, not because they are being watched by Big Brother, but because there is no other choice. The constant surveillance is just a symbol of the government's constant presence. Whether that constant presence is a good or bad thing is a separate issue, which Orwell later recognized openly as peaceful post-WWII societal changes eased his wartime fears.

    • by Seumas ( 6865 )

      Giant ominous blimps overseeing the population below, drones, the "See Something; Say Something" videos everywhere, including Walmart checkouts and the "See Something; Say Something" mantra being repeated at subways and train stations. TSA VIPR teams spreading out across the country to do traffic stops, inspect you in line at the train station and football events. Pre-emptive cyber-warfare. Nope, this isn't Orwellian at all. Nope.

    • by jovius ( 974690 )

      No need to wage a war anymore. Anybody who opposes the measures are enemies of the fatherland. The fear itself has become the enemy - the subconscious and the maintenance of the earthly bodies is controlled by mega corporations. It's a handy plan - everybody becomes a drone.

  • by scotts13 ( 1371443 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:04AM (#42807701)

    They state as fact the blimps will be deployed, but they're still "trying to determine" how they can be integrated into the air defense system? Isn't that kinda backwards?

    • by rioki ( 1328185 )

      Not if you think about government spending. First spend the money, then see if you can do something useful with it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I work in government. Don't spend money you've been allocated and not only will your budget be cut even harder next year, but you'll also be criticized for "sitting on" the money. It's totally fucked up. Once your budget is set (playing a game of "I want a pony" to receive a small dog) it's better to overspend than to save. My department was almost set on a plan to blow cash on some very expensive software packages that we knew would be lightly used to "bleed off" some budget, but then we got the order to g

      • Not if you think about government spending. First spend the money, then see if you can do something useful with it.

        Why is this "troll?" Anyone else just read about rape-i-scan machines?

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      It's call panopticon http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon [wikipedia.org], basically turning American cities into open air prison monitored 24/7/365 as the rich and greedy wind the screws on the rest of the population. Air defence is a laughable excuse, unless Canada and Mexico have become real threats and all of a sudden the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans have become undefendable. Of course air defence is the easy excuse and, national security to hide what is actually installed and then of course the excuses to start usi

  • by poofmeisterp ( 650750 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:08AM (#42807741) Journal

    Yeah, because the 9/11 attacks were all about not having radar visibility of the aircraft, uh huh. Sure.

    They were perfectly visible by radar.

    So this is a hidden agenda (technology that will not be mentioned by them) or a complete BS example of making Americans feel comfortable, like nothing will ever happen again because they're being watched out for.

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      Stop thinking about conspiracies, the answer is looking you in the face.

      This is a way to spend money on defense and defense contractors. That is really it. No conspiracy or secret motive, just another move to hand our tax dollars to someone's buddies.

    • This is not at all about making Americans feel comfortable.
      It's about keeping their voting bloc in line.
      Now I wish I was joking.

    • by Vreejack ( 68778 )

      Speaking as a DC resident, this talks of defensive blimps is actually making me very uncomfortable. But if the threat is real then so be it.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:11AM (#42807769)
    So rather than do the sane thing to reduce attacks (which saves money both in the short and long run!) which is to fix our foreign policy to one of free trade and friendship rather than secret assassinations, embargoes, invasions and occupation that we currently have. We instead decide to spend even more money on useless counter-measures.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
    • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:29AM (#42807967) Homepage

      See, you're misunderstanding: The spending tons of money on useless counter-measures is big profits to the politically-connected seller who's just happened to provide appropriate amounts of graft to the government folks.

      The goal isn't (and generally has never been) to fix the problem, the goal is to maximize profits.

  • by girlinatrainingbra ( 2738457 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:25AM (#42807913)
    I remember reading about an unmanned blimp crashing:
    San Diego Union Tribune [utsandiego.com] article about an unmanned Army blimp brought down in Pa. woods
    A remote-controlled, unmanned reconnaissance blimp launched from Ohio by defense contractor Lockheed Martin was brought down Wednesday in a controlled descent in the woods of southwestern Pennsylvania after it was unable to climb to the desired altitude.
    The HALE-D blimp was designed to float above the jet stream at 60,000 feet and can be used for reconnaissance, intelligence and other purposes often accomplished by satellites, but at lower cost. The blimp was being tested as a communications relay device as part of a contract Lockheed Martin has with the Army

    And another one, found by searching for military and blimps, also found in gizmag and wired, is a dedicated blimp site article [blimpinfo.com] about the army preparing and training for using a huge/mammoth spy blimp, an LEMV = US Army's massive Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle:

    The Air Force's highly computerized (and potentially missile-armed) Blue Devil 2 airship recently ran into integration problems, forcing the flying branch to cancel a planned test run in Afghanistan. (Although the service had never been too hot on airships in the first place.) The Navy meanwhile grounded its much smaller MZ-3A research blimp for a lack of work until the Army paid to take it over. The LEMV seemed to be losing air, too, as Northrop and the Army repeatedly delayed its first flight and planned combat deployment originally slated for the end of 2011.

    also http://www.gizmag.com/lemv-first-flight/22675/ [gizmag.com]
    and http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/05/massive-spy-blimp [wired.com] : Army Readies Its Mammoth Spy Blimp for First Flight ...
    There wass also an auxilliary naval air field north of La Jolla in Del Mar that also was used for blimps: http://www.militarymuseum.org/NAAFDelMar.html [militarymuseum.org]

    • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william,chuang&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:56AM (#42809019) Homepage

      Soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, which has bumpy terrain and bad weather, have always wanted "eyes in the sky" that would give them a heads up on enemy attacks. The bad terrain stops the soldiers from seeing too far away because the bad guys hide in the hills. The bad weather is alternately freezing or too hot, so fixed wing aircraft such as the Predator crash and can't stay overhead constantly. A blimp could just sit there with their sensors spying away, and if you can make the tether long enough, the blimp would be outside the range of enemy fire.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @10:27AM (#42807937)

    I'm sick and tired of elected officials thinking of themselves as a valuable commodity. They're just citizens. No better, no worse than the rest of us. They need to send a message to the "terrorists." This message should be something to the effect, "You can hurt me, kill me, do whatever you want, but know that there are plenty of other people in line to take my place."

    I really do believe that the current breed of politician would make the founders of the U.S.A. sick.

  • fly as high as 10,000 feet

    powerful long-range surveillance radar with a 360-degree look-around capability that can reach out to 340 miles.

    There's a simple aviation rule of thumb (aka its probably less than 10% inaccurate) that 10Kft = 100nm to the horizon.

    So they're admitting its a OTH radar. That seems odd, why make a shitty lightweight OTH when you could make a really good one on the ground. In the air would be a good spot for a stereotypical skin painting surveillance radar, however.

    I'm suspecting there's some specsmanship going on here were an infinite number of imperial to metric re-conversions and PR rounding up 20 times has somehow l

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )

      So what if they could see the aircraft? The last time the air defence didn't work (whether or not it was on purpose), so how would these blimps help if the same things would still apply: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_conspiracy_theories#Air_defense_stand_down_theory [wikipedia.org]

      FWIW I'd have thought the US air bases would be able to scramble jets for interception within minutes, so to me it's quite suspicious that the air defence couldn't take down at least one of the airliners but what do I know.

    • by mjr167 ( 2477430 )
      The journalists probably forgot that the Earth is not flat. Nor is it a sphere and geometry on a lumpy oblate elipsoid is a pain in the butt.
  • I'm pretty sure that London had many more than just two during World War II.

    Although the intent of them was to provide obstructions to aircraft rather than trying to detect them.

  • Zeppelin (Score:5, Funny)

    by marcroelofs ( 797176 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:00AM (#42808379)
    I was just thinking lately, the only thing missing in the similarities between the US and 1935 Germany is a nice big Zeppelin.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:05AM (#42808439)

    Former imagery analyst and UAV contractor here.

    While I'm not denying that these aerostats are capable of floating high resolution air-search radar, etc, their purpose over in the non-war combat zones of afghanistan and iraq where I lived for 2-3 years was to loft high resolution zoom optics with an EO/IR sensor payload in order to spot shooters and mortar teams within several miles of their ground stations. Essentially it was like having a full-time predator feed orbiting your base, which was really convenient for the aforementioned purposes.

    On smaller bases you would have a guyed lattice tower with a camera ball on top, on larger ones, you got an aerostat. The ground station equipment used to view and transport the video feeds was similar/identical to those used for smaller UAV systems.

    Again, it's possible these will be used for the stated purpose, but if they are, it'd be the first time I've seen it done. The most advanced surface to air missile systems do not use aerostats; take a look at the Russian S-300 (SA-10/20). It uses a ground-based air search radar and a ground-based target acquisition radar. Of course, this system is designed to be highly mobile, but the terrain around DC isnt so mountainous that a traditional early warning system wouldn't suffice. Even less so a target acquisition or illumination radar, as those two systems usually require LOS to the target. Unless terrorists have learned advanced terrain-following flight profiles and can manage to fly them in a fully fueled passenger aircraft (lol). The extreme precision radars that guide anti-mortar gun systems which can shoot a softball falling at terminal velocity out of the sky are still _ground based_

    Believe me, I have every confidence that Washington has managed to find a new lightweight high res radar system to waste money on.

    (hint) However, I also advise that it would eliminate a lot of the troublesome FAA and national-security related regulations barring UAV surveillance of the populace if this system is considered a ground-tethered conventional surveillance camera like the ones at wal-mart, rather than a high precision aerial sensor platform, y'know, like it actually is... (/hint)

  • So how can I check whether I'm in an alternative reality when I can't depend on dirigibles in the sky any more?

  • Fringe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WillgasM ( 1646719 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:48AM (#42808913) Homepage
    OMG! We're the other universe!
  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @11:58AM (#42809049)

    I find this amusing because Reagan National Airport already has one of the most restrictive air traffic patterns in the country. I can see it now, take off to the North and then do a hard bank left to avoid the No Fly Zone and the Washington Monument, then a bank right to avoid the blimp. I can see commercial pilots now having to have simulator sessions to avoid tethered dirigible avoidance. Of course this means that airfare prices will increase by 50% to cover this training.

    What they're building are barrage balloons which have been used since before WWII. While mildly effective, I seriously doubt that a well heeled terrorist organization will have their own air force or cruise missiles. Maybe a rogue nation, such as the PRK perhaps but then again I'd think they'd know well in advance of that kind of attack. DC is less than 36 square miles and if all of our strategic national assets are there, then we're in deep S**T. There's lots of bureaucrats of course and Congress and their staff, but could we do without them for awhile? Yeah, I know that's wishful thinking. Does anybody in DC honestly think these Rube Goldberg devices will actually do anything or just be a giant, taxpayer funded, deficit increasing waste of money? Obviously not. [wikipedia.org]

    Balloons were sometimes more trouble than they were worth. In 1942 Canadian and American forces began joint operations to protect the sensitive locks and shipping channel at Sault Ste. Marie along their common border among the Great Lakes against possible air attack.[3] During severe storms in August and October 1942 some barrage balloons broke loose, and the trailing cables short-circuited power lines, causing serious disruption to mining and manufacturing. In particular, the metals production vital to the war effort was disrupted.

    I'm stocking up on Jiffy Pop now and waiting for the first set of severe thunderstorms to dislodge them and then have the F16s scramble to shoot them down. Some of the debris will be flammable and will land on the South East of DC, causing severe panic and riots. I just can't wait.

    As Patton said:

    “Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man.”

    Even if they are fronted by balloons.

  • I see your radar blimps and raise you thousands of mylar kids ballons with foil streamers.
  • Where are they going to put broadcasting things around Washington at 10K feet without interfering physically, electrically, and probably other ways? Especially as they wave around in the breeze? Wouldn't it be a lot easier to build a few extra stations around the Beltway or a wider perimeter - or, hey, put them in big trucks that drive around the Beltway all day so they're harder to find . . .
  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @12:32PM (#42809485) Journal

    These balloons are nothing new - they have them on the Texas coast and down the Mexican border, and they've been using them for decades to spot illegal flights coming out of Mexico. Look at any aeronautical chart for these areas and you'll see a circle with the warning "Unmarked balloon on cable up to 15,000 feet" or something similar (sorry, I don't have a Houston sectional to hand to check).

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Wednesday February 06, 2013 @02:17PM (#42810963)
    In a show of international cooperation, the commanding officer is on loan from England: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_Blimp [wikipedia.org]

Air is water with holes in it.