The U.S. Military is looking into the possibility of making use of high-altitude balloons in order to assist its efforts to gather information about China and Russia as the tensions between the U.S. and the two countries continue to be strained.
The Pentagon has been throwing tens of millions of dollars into researching the use of high-altitude inflatables in order to help gather intelligence on China and Russia, especially in regard to the rival nation’s hypersonic weapons systems, as reported by Politico. The Department of Defense has made plans to throw tens of millions of more dollars toward the research efforts over the next fiscal year.
“High or very high-altitude platforms have a lot of benefit for their endurance on station, maneuverability and also flexibility for multiple payloads,” stated the head of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Tom Karako, as reported to Politico.
The Pentagon has also used roughly $3.8 million on other balloon-related military projects over the previous two years but plans to increase that amount to roughly $27.1 million for the 2023 fiscal year, as reported by budget documents given to Politico.
One of the main benefits of utilizing balloons as a method to gather intelligence instead of powered aircraft is the total cost. For balloons to do these types of sorties over several weeks or months sports a price tag to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars versus a cost of millions to do the same thing with satellites or powered aircraft.
The Department of Defense has already been looking at the possible benefits of using balloons for the collection of data and for surveillance as part of a program that has been labeled Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture (COLD STAR). The program started with the intent of researching how balloons might be utilized to gather intelligence against drug smuggling operations and to find the location of traffickers.
The program has since been shifted over to the military as a means to monitor weapons programs and other proceedings by the United States’ top rivals.
The U.S. Army has also been looking into the potential for balloons and other inflatables for quite a few years as part of a program labeled High-Altitude Extended-Range Long Endurance Intelligence Observation System (HELEIOS). The goal of the program was to use the balloons as a way to gather information and engage in jamming or various types of disruptive capacities.