Long thought of as just a convenient way to both advertise tires and provide aerial coverage of football games, blimps have become a low-tech-meets-high-tech surveillance tool in some of the world’s most dangerous locations. The Royal Singapore Air Force just announced that it will send a tethered aerostat platform aloft in early 2015 to “complement the RSAF’s suite of airborne and ground-based radars.”
Singapore’s aerostat comprises a 55 meter helium balloon that’s tethered to a military camp. Operating up to 2,000 feet in the air, the blimp will allow the RSAF to monitor threats from the air or sea that are up to 200 kilometers away.
“In order to see far, you have to be very high with no buildings to block you …Our ground-based radar systems can only operate above high-rise buildings,” Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said at his ministry’s PRoductivity and Innovation in Daily Efforts (PRIDE) Day awards ceremony, according to The Straits Times.
Located just off the coast of Malaysia, and next to one of the world’s piracy hotspots, the Strait of Malacca, Singapore has a lot of recent history to justify deploying the aerostat. Bloomberg quoted Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, as saying that “both aviation and maritime domains have to be closely monitored in the light of the more recent developments, for instance the MH370.”
Blimps, as it turns out, are one of the cheapest means of maintaining continuous airborne radar coverage. As Ng explained, the aerostat will save an estimated $23 million a year in operating costs.