THE SILENT SENTINEL
By Julian Nettlefold
BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold visited Global Near Space Services (GNSS) in Colorado to discuss their latest aerostat technology and plans for the future following key contract win in Asia.
“Lighter than air vehicles in the form of Zeppelins, balloons and aerostats have been on the battlefield in some form or other since they rose to prominence with the German deployment of the armed Zeppelin in World War I whilst In World War 2 they were used as parachute trainers and barrage balloons. Post World War 2 their use waned as they were seen as vulnerable to ground fire. However, weather conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the requirement for wide area surveillance techniques borough their use back with a vengeance. The same trend can be observed in places like Thailand, Korea and in Israel; Israeli experience has led to export orders in Mexico and India. Far from being yesterday’s technology the DoD has now pencilled in a key role for aerostats in the protection of borders and FOBs on the battlefield. Our team at GNSS are steeped in aerospace knowledge and thus approach our technology in terms not of payload ability but of aerodynamic ability. Our patented technology enables aerostats not only to stay up longer, survive bad weather but also provide a stable payload. We proved this last year by winning a key contract from a major Asian nation using our Star*Light constellation system equipped with thermal imaging cameras provide by FLIR Systems.” John Hawley (Maj. Gen. Retd USAF) CEO of GNSS told the Editor.
“How do you propose to grow the business?” The Editor asked.
“We established the Company in 2004 and have spent most of that time developing the technology and to prove its worth against strong incumbents. We have been provided with a huge benefit of access to high speed DARPA computers to model our developments. Global Near Space Services’ mission is to lead the world in tapping the enormous potential of Near Space. By designing and developing unmanned aerospace systems like the Star*Light, Global Near Space Services seeks to help commercial and governmental organizations tackle the 21st century’s most pressing challenges—from combating terrorism and improving high-speed communications to improving air quality and reducing global warming. The announcement this year of huge cuts in the U.S. Defense Budget is an opportunity for growth in procurement of systems such as ours Not only are GNSS systems cheaper to procure, their running costs are about one tenth of a Reaper.” John Hawley said.
U.S. Air Force’s TARS (Tethered Aerostat Radar System)
One such system is the U.S. Air Force’s TARS (Tethered Aerostat Radar System) system, TARS has its origins in the early 1980s. In December 1980 the USAF began to use a tethered aerostat (with 250000 ft3 volume) at Cudjoe Key, FL, for surveillance purposes. Beginning in 1984, the U.S. Customs Service began to build up a network of aerostat sites on the southern U.S. border to detect illegal drug trafficking. The Coast Guard also operated tethered aerostat systems along the Gulf of Mexico. For more efficient operation of all aerostat sites, Congress mandated in 1992 that the program was to be managed as a whole by the Department of Defense. DOD in turn designated the Air Force as the executive agency for the border surveillance aerostats. A total of 11 sites were operated at one time, but as of 2003 only eight were still operational. Primary task of the system still is low-level air surveillance, helping other federal agencies to detect and intercept drug traffic. Initially, the TARS sites used aerostat envelopes built by General Electric, but these had severe reliability problems. Because of excessive helium leakage, the blimps repeatedly failed to maintain altitude for the expected duration. As a result, the blimps were replaced in the early 1990s by TCOM 71M LASS (Low-Altitude Surveillance System) blimps with an AN/TPS-63