Used for a wide variety of military and defense applications aerostats are typically unmanned and require low power, making them an extremely cost-effective way to elevate a payload and much cheaper than deploying aircraft or helicopters.
Also referred to as blimps and LTA (lighter than air) vehicles, aerostats are aircraft that gain lift through the use of a buoyant gas such as helium. They may be free-floating or tethered, and may incorporate systems that provide them with propulsion and steering.
Military aerostats are ideal for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) applications, providing a persistent capability that can stay aloft for long periods of time.
Surveillance aerostats may be equipped with a wide array of payloads including visible and thermal infrared cameras, radar, and SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) payloads. They may be powered by batteries, generators or solar panels, or via a tether.
Tethered aerostats are connected to a ground station via a cable that provides power and may also enable data transfer via fiber optics. In addition to fixed installations, mobile tethered aerostat systems are available that can be launched from a trailer, flatbed truck or vessel.
Aerostats are also ideal for use as battlefield communications relays, as the increased elevation of the radio equipment means an extended distance to the horizon and thus extended radio line-of-sight (RLOS). Larger aerostats may also be used to carry cargo that can resupply soldiers and bases in hard-to-reach areas.
Design & Materials
Aerostats are made from lightweight materials such as synthetic fabrics that minimize weight and maximize the lift provided to the system. Materials for aerostats used in battlefield environments are usually selected so that they will not rip across the body when punctured, meaning that they can survive for a short time against small arms fire and are easily repaired in the field by patching up the holes.