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Pentagon boosting Afghanistan "eyes in the sky"

Last Updated: Saturday, April 3, 2010 - 09:50

Washington: The Pentagon is focused on getting more trucks, surveillance equipment and other military equipment into Afghanistan to prepare for what will be a critical summer in the war, Defence Undersecretary Ashton Carter said on Friday.

Carter, head of Pentagon acquisition, technology and logistics, said the success of the war in Afghanistan would depend largely on being able to get weapons and support services to the US troops headed to the land-locked country, which he described as "the last place where you would like to be fighting a war”.

"This summer is going to be very critical. If we don`t get ourselves in there and get set ... we can`t have success," he told a conference hosted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies,

As part of that effort, Carter said he was increasing 20-fold the number of airships hovering over Afghanistan, providing "eyes in the sky" to troops on the ground.

Equipped with sophisticated cameras and the ability to stream images to US bases on the ground, the airships would help track any activity that could jeopardise the troops, including the burying of roadside bombs.

At the same time, the very visible presence of the airships would keep potential attackers on their guard, Carter said, calling the airships a more affordable way to maintain surveillance than more-expensive unmanned airplanes, which are also being deployed in Afghanistan in large numbers.

Carter did not say which airship model would be added.

Lockheed Martin Corp builds a 35-meter tethered helium-filled airship known as Persistent Threat Detection System that has been in use by the Army since 2004. Nine of the airships are being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lockheed is building eight more airships under a USD 133 million one-year contract it won in October 2009, and is in talks with the Army about additional orders.

Another aerostat used by the military is made by Aerostar, a unit of South Dakota-based Raven Industries Inc, which last month said it had a tethered airship backlog of more than USD 10 million. It said the airships would be paired with surveillance equipment and deployed in Afghanistan.

The unmanned airships will cut the need for risky on-foot missions by staying in the air much longer and feeding data to commanders through on-board cameras and sensors.

These sensors could also "rewind" after an explosion to find who planted the bomb and where they went.

Carter said the airships would be under the control of local forward operating bases, not commanders far away, making them a good tool on a fairly localised basis.

He said the Pentagon was also accelerating delivery of hand-held metal detectors and ground-penetrating radars, as part of an urgent drive to reduce the number of casualties from road-side bombs or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The military was also deploying about 1,000 new armoured trucks built by Oshkosh Corp per month, double the initial rate, Carter said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Saturday, April 3, 2010 - 09:50

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