US Army doubles fleet of enormous floating eyes

'Beholder'-esque aerostat blimps spy Afghanistan


The US Army is doubling its fleet of moored spy balloons, deployed in overseas warzones to provide continuous unblinking overwatch around fortified American camps and bases.

The 74K Aerostat, as used in the PTDS System. Credit: Lockheed

Giant, floating, all-seeing eyes in the sky r us

Arms behemoth Lockheed Martin announced yesterday that it has been awarded a $133m contract to provide a further 8 Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS) tethered aerostats, supplementing the 9 already in service overseas.

The PTDS is based on Lockheed's 74K (74,000 cubic foot) helium aerostat design, produced at the stupendous Airdock in Akron, Ohio - where the mighty flying aircraft carriers of the pre-war US Navy were built by Goodyear-Zeppelin in the 1930s, although nowadays it is owned by Lockheed. It's understood that the PTDS aerostats carry a ground-sweeping radar and accompanying thermal-camera systems, able to pick out moving objects across a wide stretch of terrain and then zoom in to identify them.

Such motion-detector/spyeye systems are also routinely deployed in other ways: manned or unmanned aircraft, or atop a fixed tower. Aerostats offer more height and thus more sweep area than is feasible with a tower - the 74K operates 1,500m up - and are able to stay up much longer and more cheaply than aircraft. They are invaluable for maintaining a watch over the area around a base, for instance, making it much harder for insurgents to mount rocket or mortar attacks or plant bombs in the vicinity.

The price of $16m apiece might seem a little high for a moored balloon, but this includes the sensors, ground station, supporting vehicles and generators etc.

The only thing lacking would seem to be a proper name: PTDS is frankly a bit dull. Given that we're talking about a huge, vaguely globular thing floating in midair with a variety of eyes on it, it seems hard not to suggest "Beholder" as an alternative. ®

Bootnote

For those unfamiliar with the Dungeons & Dragons monster portfolio, there's some explanation of Beholders here.

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Will this be one of the world's first RISC-V laptops?
    A sneak peek at a notebook that could be revealed this year

    Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world's first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

    In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA's governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.

    It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International's software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.

    Continue reading
  • Did ID.me hoodwink Americans with IRS facial-recognition tech, senators ask
    Biz tells us: Won't someone please think of the ... fraud we've stopped

    Democrat senators want the FTC to investigate "evidence of deceptive statements" made by ID.me regarding the facial-recognition technology it controversially built for Uncle Sam.

    ID.me made headlines this year when the IRS said US taxpayers would have to enroll in the startup's facial-recognition system to access their tax records in the future. After a public backlash, the IRS reconsidered its plans, and said taxpayers could choose non-biometric methods to verify their identity with the agency online.

    Just before the IRS controversy, ID.me said it uses one-to-one face comparisons. "Our one-to-one face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. ID.me does not use one-to-many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic. Further, privacy is core to our mission and we do not sell the personal information of our users," it said in January.

    Continue reading
  • Meet Wizard Spider, the multimillion-dollar gang behind Conti, Ryuk malware
    Russia-linked crime-as-a-service crew is rich, professional – and investing in R&D

    Analysis Wizard Spider, the Russia-linked crew behind high-profile malware Conti, Ryuk and Trickbot, has grown over the past five years into a multimillion-dollar organization that has built a corporate-like operating model, a year-long study has found.

    In a technical report this week, the folks at Prodaft, which has been tracking the cybercrime gang since 2021, outlined its own findings on Wizard Spider, supplemented by info that leaked about the Conti operation in February after the crooks publicly sided with Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

    What Prodaft found was a gang sitting on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars funneled from multiple sophisticated malware variants. Wizard Spider, we're told, runs as a business with a complex network of subgroups and teams that target specific types of software, and has associations with other well-known miscreants, including those behind REvil and Qbot (also known as Qakbot or Pinkslipbot).

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022