BlimpsSurveillance technology along the border

Published 22 March 2012

A South Dakota blimp maker has one of its airships take part in a border security technology demonstration; the demonstration was put together to allow the CBP to evaluate a new surveillance system for use on the border

Raven Aerostar said it was part of a 3-member team deployed by DHS’s Customs and Border Protection to help detect, identify, and track and individuals suspected of illegal activity along the U.S. border. The event, which was funded by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), was put together to allow the CBP to evaluate a new surveillance system for use on the border. Raven Aerostar provided a tethered aerostat system which is part of its Flexible Area Surveillance Technology (FAST), a joint persistent situational awareness product with partner L-3 Communications. FAST systems rely on Raven Aerostar’s tethered aerostat to carry the L-3 Wescam sensor as part of its payload. This device operates similar to a camera, and when integrated with the aerostat system, provides commercial, off-the-shelf surveillance capability in any number of applications, including military and homeland security missions.

During the demonstration, a third partner, Logos Technologies, supplied its new Kestrel sensor to operate in conjunction with the L-3 sensor. The Kestrel sensor is capable of scanning a wide area at once, significantly improving the likelihood of detecting small targets within the search area.

Tethered aerostats are the most cost-effective and adaptable persistent surveillance platform on the market,” said Lon Stroschein, vice president and general manager at Raven Aerostar. “Our aerostats and sensors have many thousands of hours of persistent flight time throughout Afghanistan providing military intelligence in order to defend our troops from IEDs and other insurgent activity around our forward bases. That mission has proven modern aerostats to be one of the most reliable and cost-efficient platforms in the world for persistent surveillance.” Stroschein concluded, “The team couldn’t be happier with the results that U.S. Border Agents are demonstrating by adapting this proven technology to our borders.”

For the Nogales demonstration, Border Patrol spokesman Lloyd Easterling explained, “We will be testing this new surveillance system and evaluating the capacity it will offer in the border environment.” The success of the test run will determine whether DHS and CPB decide to procure systems for use along the border in the future. Early reviews of the system’s performance at Nogales have been exceedingly positive—especially at night—as the system sensors, operated by Border Patrol Agents, successfully detected numerous individuals suspected of illegal activity and led to their apprehension.