While the old-style rubbles of the combat zones resulted from interminable bombings, guns, and warfare, recent developments have brought the United States to arrive at a reinvigorated discovery: Balloons.

The high-altitude inflatables, which would be appended to the Pentagon’s massive surveillance system and potentially be used to follow revolutionary weapons, would fly approximately 60,000 and 90,000 feet in the air. This will be used as a new strategy to outperform rivals China and Russia.

Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, elevated or even very high-altitude platforms, offer numerous favorable circumstances, notable mobility for diverse payloads, speed, and terminal persistence.

“High or very high-altitude platforms have a lot of benefits for their endurance on station, maneuverability, and flexibility for multiple payloads.

Pentagon budget records indicate that the innovation is being transferred from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) scientific community to the armed personnel in the service.

Based on a report by Lee Hudson, since the military may employ the balloons for various functions, the Pentagon made significant investments in these ventures. 

Data shows that according to budget records cited in a Politico report, the Pentagon has spent roughly $3.8 million on balloon initiatives throughout the last two years and intends to devote $27.1 million in the fiscal year 2023 to continue work on a range of projects.

The balloons may assist in detecting and preventing the formation of “hypersonic weapons” by China and Russia, which is a massive benefit for the United States.

In August 2021, China startled the Pentagon by performing a nuke “hypersonic missile test;” the missile narrowly avoided its objective by about twenty miles.

 Additionally, after the United States left the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, Russia spurred the development of hypersonic weapons. According to the Russian government, the first hypersonic missile to be used in wartime was fired against Ukraine in March, just a month after they occupied the country.

Imbibing the History

From the use of hot-air balloons during the American Civil War to the more recent deployment of tethered air vehicles to monitor drug-running activity in the Caribbean, the use of aerostats for espionage has a long history.

Crews prepared a moored Aerostat balloon for launch at Multi-National Base Tarin Kot, Afghanistan, on Dec. 7. The Aerostat balloon is equipped with 24-hour surveillance and communication equipment. It will help stop insurgents from planting IEDs in the Uruzgan province. (Spc. Jennifer Spradlin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

To obtain uplift while also transporting heavier payloads of sensors, cameras, and audio equipment, Lockheed Martin engineers started modifying the “envelopes” of existing military aerostats in 2003. A Ground Control Station sent intelligence from new ropes with a combination of copper wires and fiber-optic cables to operational forces close to real-time data dissemination.

The aerostats have proven to be a priceless surveillance aircraft tool, gathering information from 100 miles in all directions, 24 hours a day, for weeks. They have precluded everything from configuring improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in remote areas to scoundrel Afghan police brigadiers trying to extort money from civilian populations at unauthorized control points.

The 2019 Surveillance in the United States

In 2019, about the “hot air” the US unveiled Mark Harris reported that as per the documents submitted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US military launched high-altitude balloons for expansive surveillance across six states in the Midwest.

Up to 25 autonomous solar-powered balloons have been sent into the atmosphere from a remote South Dakota location. They will travel 250 miles over parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri, eventually landing in central Illinois.

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The report said that the balloons are equipped with trailblazing radars that can monitor numerous individual vehicles simultaneously, day or night, in any other kind of climate conditions.

Moreover, the balloons are integrated with advanced mesh networking technology, which capacitates them to communicate, share the information, and convey it to receivers on the ground.

It was reported that for years, the DoD has tested utilizing solar-powered drones and high-altitude balloons to glean data, supply ground troops with communications, and confront satellite dilemmas. 

However, in DoD budget justification documents, POLITICO uncovered evidence showing that the Pentagon is covertly moving the balloon projects to the military services for collection of data and information transmission to aircraft.

The DoD is also exploring using balloons and drones with “stratospheric payloads” to monitor approaching targets on the ground, execute communications, and overhear electrical impulses. However, the budget documents state that the primary intent is for the Army and US Special Operations Command to adopt the new technology.