Moon the Balloon?

By | October 9, 2009

Moon the Balloon

There’s a giant blimp, white with three tail fins, hanging over the city these days and it’s causing a stir among Kandaharis who believe the Americans are using it to spy on them.And it could be they’re right.

“Many people believe it’s a spy blimp that can see through walls to look at our women,” said Ghulam Ghami, a local fixer attuned to the buzz in coffee shops and kebab stands.

While that notion is outlandish, the U.S. is developing a $400-million blimp-like surveillance airship. It is expected to be deployed in Afghanistan by 2011.

Lockheed Martin’s long endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), as it’s named, will be 250-feet (76-metre) long, and able to float at up to 20,000 feet for three weeks at a time. As for its surveillance capabilities, a 40-foot-long (12 m.) stretch behind the cockpit will house a selection of spy gear, including a motion sensor and radar.

While the LEMV has yet to be built — the contract will be awarded this month — Lockheed Martin has already produced a prototype: the P-791.

The P-791, which flew six times in 2006, is half the planned length of the LEMV. In test flights, the P-791 showed itself capable of carrying heavy loads and executing sharp turns

Could the blimp over Kandahar actually be an eye-in-the-sky P-791? It’s plainly visible to the naked eye, and looks spectacular lit up at night. That seems counter to the notion of spying as a furtive, clandestine pursuit.

Calls to the U.S. Defence Department were not returned.

Might the blimp be a weather balloon of sorts, used to gather scientific data for research purposes? Possibly, but most weather develops over water, and Afghanistan is land locked.

Whatever it is, the blimp is making locals uneasy.

“People don’t like it,” said Ghami. “Some are saying they are going to shoot at it.”

The LEMV is sure to be an imposing sight when it is test deployed in Afghanistan in 2011.

As a hybrid airship, the LEMV is heavier than air but will get some of its buoyancy from gas compartments. It will feature turbines on its underside to help launch it into the air and will require a short runway.

In the early 20th century, airships were used in warfare, with dirigibles being employed for bombing and for intelligence gathering. However, the advent of airplanes and horrific disasters such as the Hindenburg fire put an end to the airship as a war weapon.

Now airships are poised to make a return to the battle front. The LEMV will be used primarily for intelligence gathering on such area as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Annoyed Kandaharis could consider borrowing a tactic from the people of Sarnia, Ont. About 70 people there dropped their pants to “moon the balloon.”

It was a protest against a spy balloon that a U.S. company began using over the summer to monitor the border, including their town. …

– via Edmonton

This is obviously just a flock of pelicans, not a spy balloon.

Leave a Reply