The United States military is about to launch the second radar-equipped airship in Aberdeen, Maryland, in a bid to further improve the missile defense system in place along the east coast of the country.
The second blimp will join the aerostat, the official name of the first blimp that has been hovering above the Aberdeen Proving Ground since December 2014.
The aerostat, which covers the length of an entire football field, was launched eight months ago. The airship is tethered to the ground but hovers 10,000 feet above Aberdeen, a facility of the U.S. Army.
The airship carries radar systems that are designed to identify any incoming threats from the air. Specifically, these threats that the aerostat is on the lookout for include cruise missiles that can be launched from locations in the Atlantic to target Washington, D.C. The aerostat is capable of scanning the airspace from Boston all the way to North Carolina.
"When anyone can buy a cruise missile and put this thing on a ship or an air launch, there is a potential threat out there," said Gen. Glenn Bramhall of the North American Aerospace Defense Command unit of the Army.
Similar airships are deployed in Iraq, with special cameras tracking movements on the ground. The military, however, claims that such cameras will not be attached to the Maryland airships.
Lt. Shane Glass of the U.S. Army confirmed that there will be no cameras for the airships over Maryland, as they will only be equipped with radar and will focus only on detecting flying objects.
The second airship that will join the aerostat in its radar duties could launch within the week, with the two blimps to work in tandem 24/7.
The addition of the second blimp will allow for the radar systems to detect objects faster than before, giving military officials more time to decide on what to do in case hostile objects in the air are detected.
The location of the two airships over the Aberdeen Proving Grounds was chosen deliberately to minimize the risk the two blimps posed on other aircraft. The airspace over the Army facility has historically been restricted, which is part of the reason why the location was chosen for the two blimps. Due to the restriction of the airspace above the facility, no changes were made to flight patterns and airspace for other aircraft.
The program will last for three years, and the decision on whether the two airships will continue to be in the air after that period will depend on how well the blimps work.