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Airships can defeat roadside bombers, says ex-US officer

'ILLEGAL foot-dragging by air force kills our troops'

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An ex-US air force officer has said that unmanned spy airships capable of defeating terrorist/insurgent bombers could have been in service years ago, saving many lives among US and allied troops. He says that the technology was "illegally" sidelined by senior officers determined to preserve satellite and aircraft budgets.

Ed Herlik, formerly of the US air force space command and before that a pilot, said in a presentation last month that "persistent" unmanned lighter-than-air craft are the "holy grail" for which the US and allied militaries have been searching for so long - a realistic means of countering the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that have killed so many troops in recent years.

The idea is that a spy airship would lurk high (say 60,000 feet) above an area of interest, with close-to-vertical line of sight view of a large area beneath (the steep downward look is important, as people or things get hidden behind buildings, terrain etc once one is looking more from the side).

Most importantly, the spy dirigible would be monitoring the entire area all the time, not peering at just one part of it through a narrow-field "drinking straw view" sensor such as a normal electro-optical telescopic camera. The entire, huge, detailed picture would be recorded, so creating a record of every bomb-laying or ambush team as it left its home base or IED factory, travelled to the point of action and set up its trap.

No feasible analysis could pick this out of the picture as it was happening: but once the bomb went off or the ambush took place it would be a simple matter to reverse the tape back to the moment it was set up, and then backtrack the enemy to their lairs - perhaps even to their homes. Presto: every time a bomb goes off or a patrol is attacked, all the enemy personnel involved are bagged.

According to Herlik, this technology could have been in service years ago - but senior air force officers, despite having been ordered to sort it out, deliberately sidelined the idea. The DEW Line blog flags up the incendiary part of his remarks:

Why aren't we doing this?

Part of this is the cultural resistance to lighter than air vehicles. The air force for example has absolutely no interest in airships. It's just too far from what they choose to do...

The bottom line inhibitors are right here: Budgets and careers. As with any technical innovation the old technology will be replaced to some extent, and the losers always resist, especially those whose careers are based on whatever technology is going away.

Air force space command was assigned to this task by a chief of staff named Jumper* back in about 2003. Several years later the technology problems had been solved, to include survivability, which meant that the threat to satellite budgets was then crystal clear.

At that point, and just as that chief of staff retired, an air force general wrote a cease and desist order countermanding the chief of staff. Yes, that is illegal. But they did it anyway.

Shortly thereafter the space community jettisoned the entire idea of persistent UAVs, pushing it to the Air Combat Command, which again for cultural reasons rejected the lighter than air piece.

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