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Germany orders sensor zeppelin for base protection

Aerostat with surveillance sensors
High-altitude "eye in the sky" will protect a German military base in Africa. Photo: Rheinmetall

The German Armed Forces have ordered a tethered balloon-based area reconnaissance system for the specific purpose of protecting a forward operating base in Niger.

Resembling a zeppelin, but more correctly referred to as an aerostat, the surveillance balloon will carry sensors that will be integrated into the existing military C4I architecture.

Rheinmetall Canada will be responsible for the integration and has received a €21 million (approx. $24.7M) contract from the German defense ministry for the work.

The system is already familiar to numerous soldiers and observers from previous deployments: the US armed forces have been using such area surveillance solutions for years to protect their forward operating bases.

Capable of remaining aloft above the installation to be protected for extensive periods, the balloons’ highly sensitive sensors enable them to spot hostile elements even at great distances.

These tethered surveillance balloons will give the Bundeswehr a new means of protecting its forces deployed in Niger.

The Bundeswehr will be able to deploy this solution day and night to identify potentially hostile elements several kilometres away, making it possible to initiate necessary countermeasures on a timely basis. Experience shows that systems of this type – if only because the possibility of being detected is plain to see – reduce by fifty percent the likelihood of an attack by hostile forces.

Under the operator solution awarded by the Bundeswehr, Rheinmetall has undertaken to run the system in Niger around the clock, seven days a week. Soldiers in special workstations on the ground will operate the system’s sensors. Under the contract, Rheinmetall will train these troops to perform their future tasks prior to deployment.