The U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed a proposal that involves installing up to 18 blimps or high-tech balloons at the cost of $52.5 million, Stars and Stripes reported. The blimps will provide surveillance on the U.S. - Mexico border, reducing the number of personnel posted in the region.
Once harboring the potential to transport people across the globe, accidents and slow speeds resulted in blimps being used for advertising and air shows. At the turn of the millennium, airships became more mainstream, when they were used for purposes of surveillance in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gizmodo reported. More than a decade later, they were used for the same purpose on U.S. soil, this time to surveil its own citizens.
While that incident had brought about some controversy, the Pentagon has a renewed use of the blimps, this time on the border area between the U.S. and Mexico. According to the Stripes report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had requested 1,500 additional troops to patrol the area to stop the smuggling of drugs amid other concerns. However, Pentagon responded to the request by authorizing up to 18 blimps.
DHS has previously funded contracts for blimps; however, budget constraints forced them to be removed. Pentagon's approval means that six of the high-tech balloons will be owned by the Border Patrol Agency, and up to 12 will be owned by the Defense Department, while the entire program is funded by the latter. The U.S. Army will be contracting out the work, the report added.
Gizmodo reported that these high-tech balloons, also called aerostats, will be fitted with high capacity sensors and cameras that can provide details of activity at a granular level, even when positioned at 15,000 feet (4.5 km) high in the sky.
While this is likely to reduce the dependence on ground staff for patrolling the borders, the Pentagon does not have a good record of keeping its blimps in position. In 2015, the department lost control of a spy blimp which then crashed in rural Pennsylvania, and bringing down telephone lines and electric poles with it, Gizmodo said.