Documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveal that the US military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six Midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons. For the surveillance tests, up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons will be launched.
The balloons will be launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois. The balloons will reach a height of up to 65,000 ft. According to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, aerospace, and defense company, the balloons will be used to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotics trafficking and homeland security threats.”
Hi-tech radars will be carried in the balloons. The radars will help in simultaneously tracking many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests have not been reported previously. The tests received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year.
Arthur Holland Michel, the co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College in New York, said, “What this new technology proposes is to watch everything at once. Sometimes it’s referred to as ‘combat TiVo’ because when an event happens somewhere in the surveilled area, you can potentially rewind the tape to see exactly what occurred, and rewind even further to see who was involved and where they came from.”
US Southern Command (Southcom) has commissioned the tests. Southcom is responsible for disaster response, intelligence operations and security cooperation in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Southcom’s key role is to identify and intercept drug shipments headed for the United States.