Military Surveillance Blimps Tested At Texas-Mexico Border
August 10, 2012

Photo courtesy of fas.org
The Tethered Aerostat Radar System is a balloon-borne radar.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The Department of Homeland Security's leading agency for border issues, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced yesterday that it has begun testing surplus equipment handed over by the Defense Department, trying to see how well they work for border security purposes.

One such piece of equipment is the "Wide Area Persistent Surveillance Systems," also called Aerostat systems. Basically, they're tethered blimps that can hover as high as 2,000 feet in the air and act in the same way as Unmanned Aerial Systems, UAS, more commonly known as drones, for radar surveillance.

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These older blimp-sized surveillance systems have been used by the Army in places such as Afghanistan.

They're now being tested in the Rio Grande Valley, the 120-mile-swath of the deepest section of the Texas-Mexico border.

But it's actually not the first time Aerostats have been used to help the Border Patrol. The agency has used them on and off in Arizona for years, though their reputation there is at best mixed after one crashed in the border town of Sierra Vista.

"In partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), CBP will begin to test and evaluate whether equipment no longer being used by DoD can be re-purposed for CBP border security efforts in the United States," according to a CBP news release, which mentioned the test phase will last several months. It did not cite the specific location where the balloons will be based, or whether they will be moved around to various spots in the region.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) has been pushing in recent months for the Army to release more surplus equipment to DHS/CBP to be used for border security in Texas, which takes up 1,254 miles of the 1,952 U.S.-Mexico border.

He recently helped orchestrate a joint Army-CBP training exercise in Laredo and he was glad to hear about the use of Aerostats in the Rio Grande Valley.

"During these difficult times of limited budgets, cooperation and coordination between government agencies is especially important, and I thank CBP and DoD for working together," Cuellar said in a statement.

Just like with the visible increased presence of personnel and equipment in Laredo during the joint training exercise, Cuellar wants the public to