Intelligence: December 3, 2003


UAVs are in big demand in Iraq, but there are not enough to go around. So earlier this year, the army set about to develop, manufacture and deliver a tethered aerostat (a small helium filled blimp anchored to the ground by a cable) for use around U.S. bases. The 50 foot long blimp carries several hundred pounds of day and night vision equipment, as well as a laser range finder. The system is called RAID (Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment) and is held at an altitude of 350 feet by a cable to the ground below. It can see for about 12 kilometers in all directions. Video data is sent down a fiber optic line in the tether cable, or transmitted to nearby units. Thus many different operators can see the video, although only one operator controls the sensors. RAID is being sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. There is also a tower based system, that uses the same electronics equipment, but is mounted in a tower, or tall building, and has a bit less range than the aerostat version. Troops in Iraq are to get 16 aerostat and tower RAID units by next Spring. This will be the first time these aerostats are used in a combat zone and it will be interesting to see how far the enemy will go to try and shoot them down. Iraq has many Russian 7.62mm (full power) sniper rifles that can put a hole in an aerostat at over 1,000 meters (3,300 feet).


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