Flying at 765 meters (2,500 ft) covered by scrub ranches near the border with Mexico, a balloon loaded with high-tech cameras used by the Border Patrol can easily see a group of reporters and the brand, color and model of their vehicles to a few kilometers (miles) away.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, where the technology has already proven to be effective for attackers to locate, monitor such airships around the bases. U.S. officials believe they can be just as effective to track drug smugglers and migrants trying to cross the border without permission by a steep stretch of the Rio Grande where there is no boundary fence.
The Border Patrol is testing two airships filled with helium to them by the Department of Defense. Congressional staff joined representatives from the departments of Homeland Security and Defense on Wednesday near the border town of Rome, about 400 kilometers (260 miles) south of San Antonio, to witness what the balloon can do.
The two airships, one of nearly 17 meters (55 feet) and the other 22 meters (72 feet) – that are tested on the border were manufactured in North Carolina by TCOM, a company based in Maryland.
Inside, the balloon is equipped with air conditioning and three banks of video monitors scan the area, approaches to make vehicles that are miles (kilometers) away, and quickly switch to infrared located a car that moves through a parking lot.
Blimps cameras have ability to see in Mexico, but the Border Patrol spokesman Henry Mendiola said that’s not the intention.
The larger model can stay in the air for at least 14 days. Although the balloons cannot cover anywhere near the range of a helicopter or unmanned military aircraft, are much cheaper to operate.
- War-tested blimps adapted for border security (mysanantonio.com)
- US testing surveillance balloons on Mexico border (kansascity.com)
- US testing surveillance balloons on Mexico border (heraldonline.com)
- US testing surveillance balloons on Mexico border (star-telegram.com)