In Dayton, Ohio last month the United States Army accepted the last order of Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS). The lighter-than-air systems have been used both in Iraq and Afghanistan as floating watchtowers, combining a tethered aerostat, ground station, and surveillance equipment. Along with a team of five operators, PTDS provides 24-hour intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance around US bases. From its vantage point in the sky, the dirigible is able to scan large swaths of land around U.S. military installations, keeping a constant lookout for incoming threats.

Lt. Michael Parodi, product manager for Meteorological and Target identification, was present to accept the last PTDS order, stating that the system has “proven to be a great asset” for protecting US forces and allies, and that they have been “instrumental in providing mission overwatch, detecting [improvised explosive devices] and assisting in the capture of numerous high value targets and weapons caches.”

In total, the U.S. has purchased 66 of the dirigibles. Since their inception, the aerostats have been a common site over U.S. military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Floating over US forces, they have been, in the words of Lt. Parodi, an “unblinking eye keeping watch for insurgent activity.”

The dirigible, with an operating altitude of 1,500 meters, holds 74,000 cubic feet of helium and is tethered to a ground station. The cable also serves to supply the aerostat with power and fiber optics. At its heaviest, the system can lift 500kg of optical and audio equipment. Over the years the system has been upgraded a number of times, including the addition of a second sensor, better weather survivability, increased payload capacity, and stronger network connectivity.

Lockheed Martin also supplies a larger model (a 12,000 ft aerostat) of the system to the Air Force, which is able to hold 1,000 kg of equipment, and operates at a higher altitude. It is the only large aerostat system currently being used in the U.S. and has been a mainstay of counter-drug and counter-narco terrorism missions, using its Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) to detect low flying drug planes.


Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.

Related News

Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.