US Army floats the choice of fielding high-altitude balloons

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is now carving out a path to area high-altitude balloons to offer an extra however inexpensive layer of communications, connectivity, vary extension and surveillance capabilities, including resiliency to the service’s current structure of house property and plane supporting multidomain operations.

Recent checks and experiments with high-altitude balloons at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, left an impression on the top of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. “It’s just phenomenal what we’re able to do with high-altitude balloons,” Lt. Gen. Daniel Karbler instructed Defense News in an interview forward of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention, which befell nearly Oct. 13-16.

“I don’t have the cost analysis but, in my mind, pennies on the dollar with respect to doing it. If I had to do it via a [low-Earth orbit] or some satellite constellation, what we are able to provide with high-altitude balloons, it’s tactically responsive support to the war fighter,” he added.

Karbler mentioned he sees the balloons supporting the Army’s Multidomain Task Force sooner or later.

“Conceptually, with the types of missions that the Multidomain Task Force is working, the high-altitude balloons would be a key capability enabler,” Brent Fraser, idea growth division chief at SMDC’s Space and Missile Defense Center of Excellence, instructed Defense News in an Oct. 29 interview.

“[The balloons would] be able to provide some beyond-line-of-sight capability, whether it’s communications, extended distances, to be able to provide the ability to enable sensing of targets deep in the adversary’s areas, to be able to reinforce and complement existing sensing systems other than the aerial layer as well as the space layer,” Fraser added.

In phrases of warfare video games and experiments performed with high-altitude balloons, “as we look at a number of emerging concepts and capabilities and formations,” he defined, “I think we still have a ways to go, but I think we’re on a positive path to continue.”

SMDC has been engaged on high-altitude balloons — principally dirigibles that may camp out roughly 60,000-90,000 ft within the air — for a very long time, however just lately the expertise has improved, notably via the business market. Google, as an illustration, used high-altitude balloons to assist Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to assist set up web connectivity.

Duration is without doubt one of the areas that has tremendously improved. High-altitude balloons can now keep aloft for weeks, if not months, slightly than simply hours or days. Users may command and navigate the balloons higher than earlier than, and the platforms can extra simply be recovered after missions.

“The technology readiness levels have really come a long way,” Fraser mentioned.

SMDC has partnered with Army Futures Command to advance the expertise, notably involving the latter’s Assured-Positioning, Navigation and Timing cross-functional Team in addition to Training and Doctrine Command, the Army Intelligence Center, and cyber and particular operations personnel.

Several years in the past, the Army developed a high-altitude idea that established a basis on which to construct, Col. Tim Dalton, Army functionality supervisor for house and excessive altitude throughout the SMDC’s middle of excellence, mentioned in the identical interview.

After integrating the idea into quite a lot of warfare video games with Futures Command and different entities, the Army is beginning to develop necessities. “We’re in the initial stages of defining what those requirements would be,” Dalton mentioned. “There’s kind of two aspects to the high-altitude piece: the high-altitude platform, so it’s the balloon, and then whatever it’s carrying on there for a payload.”

The Army has created preliminary paperwork for staffing via Futures Command, and over the following couple of years the service will run these necessities via the Joint Capabilities and Integration and Development System course of, which can result in assessment by the Army Requirements Oversight Council.

The service is within the early phases of determining what a program of file would seem like, nevertheless it has some choices, Dalton mentioned. “What we’re kind of hoping to do over the next couple of years as part of our campaign of learning is to help define what that looks like and the best way to resource those requirements for the Army.”

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