Monday, July 21, 2008

Blackwater Airships Fill ISR Need

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described the military's appetite for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collection, including video from unmanned aerial vehicles, as “insatiable.”

But the Air Force Times reports that “the Army and Air Force can’t seem to keep up.... Gates described getting the military to provide more airborne ISR as 'pulling teeth,' even though the number of Predator orbits — or continuous 24-hour patrols — have doubled in theater since last year.”

And that's where Blackwater comes in. The company's new Polar 400 airships can fly twice as long as Air Force Predators and cost just a fifth as much. “In the past, airships have proven ineffective because they were susceptible to weather, especially high winds,” Air Force Times explains. “Blackwater designed a propulsion system so the pilot can control the airship on all three axes.”

True, the airships won't carry Hellfire missiles like some UAVs currently in use, but the airships are perfect for loitering over a dozen city blocks for up to 60 hours at a time, just the sort of coverage our men in uniform often need when they find themselves in difficult urban warfare.

Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince “also suggested his airships could replace Predators flying drug and alien interdiction missions over the US-Mexico border and the Caribbean. He proposed using one ship as a 'lily-pad' and launching three to four airships to form a chain.”

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In spite of the obvious advantages that Blackwater airships offer to the military - both in terms of filling the ISR gap and doing so at a lower cost - certain critics are not keen on the idea. Air Force Times quoted Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., as saying “Now we’re talking about a private, for-profit company having grandiose notions of replacing the Coast Guard and the Navy,” she said. “I think that’s very dangerous.”
Ms. Schakowsky, were you paying any attention at all? We're talking about ISR collection, not the complete functions of both the Navy and the Coast Guard.

Maybe Congresswoman Schakowsky is confusing ISR with the IRS, which busted her felon husband for bank fraud tax evasion.

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