February 15, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10494

In An Article Nine Years Ago, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Expert: Airships Have Great Military Potential – They Can Be Used For Air Defense, Border And Battlefield Monitoring, And Communications Missions

February 15, 2023
China | Special Dispatch No. 10494

On November 21, 2014, an article titled "Aerostats Have Great Military Potential" was published in the 10th edition of China Youth Daily.[1] The article was written by Wang Peng, an expert from the PLA's Air Force Engineering Academy, and it asserts that airships are safe and cost-effective aircraft that can be used by militaries to efficiently carry out air defense, border and battlefield monitoring, and communications missions. The article lists the many advantages of using airships for military operations and provides information about how the militaries of other countries – including the United States, Israel, and South Korea – do so.

Below is the text of Wang Peng's article:

"Aerostats Are Currently Used By The Militaries Of Many Countries For Battlefield Surveillance In Wartime And For Ordinary Border Control"

"Recently at the 10th Zhuhai Air Show, a white balloon attracted the attention of many spectators. It is a new type of aerostat developed by China Electronics Technology Group Corporation. The 32-meter-long, 1,600-cubic-meter, helium-filled aerostat, which is the first of its kind to be exhibited at a world class air show, can float at an altitude of 1,000 meters for 15 days and nights. It can even withstand typhoons of category 10 and thunderstorms. From the sky, it can monitor real-time developments on the ground 24 hours a day, covering 360 degrees.

"Aerostats have a history of more than 200 years. According to the basic working principle of aerostats, they can be divided into airships, tethered balloons, and hot air balloons. Compared with aircrafts, aerostats have the unique advantages of low operating costs, long stay times at a fixed point in the air, large load capacities, low noise, low energy consumption, a high degree of safety, and a high cost effectiveness.

"Therefore, as an economic, safe, environmentally friendly means of transport with little restrictions on air routes, all kinds of aerostat have been widely used in civil transportation, environmental monitoring, remote sensing communication, emergency rescue, public safety, and other fields.

"When our country held the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, for the first time, an aerostat – a tethered balloon in this case – was used for air security, and it played an important role in the safe operation of Expo Park.

"In addition, many performance advantages of aerostat make them very widely used in the military. Tethered aerostats, such as inflatable balloons, were used for aerial surveillance as early as the 1870 Siege of Paris by Prussian forces. The true use of aerostats for independent surveillance began in the 1970s. At the time, the United States mainly used them to monitor flight activity over Cuba across the Caribbean Sea.

"Aerostats are currently used by the militaries of many countries for battlefield surveillance in wartime and for ordinary border control. According to a Flight Global article from September 12, 2014, the Israeli military has been greatly expanding its use of aerostats by loading them with multiple sensors. Indeed, during its [Operation Protective Edge] offensive to defend the Gaza border in July and August [of 2014], Israel deployed 13 aerostats along the border to monitor border movements remotely and transmit video and other intelligence data using a two-way secure communications line."

"It Can Be Predicted That Aerostats Will Play An Increasingly Important Role In The Future Battlefield"

"Since the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in December 2010, the South Korean military has decided to introduce aerostats to monitor its northwestern islands and the North Korean military around the clock. According to an April 2 [2014] report by Yonhap News Agency, the South Korean military will spend 24 billion won (about RMB 140 million) on its aerostat project to buy blimp bodies, optical cameras, radars and ground control equipment, and plan to deploy them to combat in late 2014 or early 2015.

"With the development of related technologies in construction, materials, control, and payload, the military applications of aerostats will be even broader. For example, the U.S. military has incorporated the aerostat system into its own air defense detection network. In peacetime, it performs the tasks of air patrol, communication, environmental monitoring, and early warning of low-altitude targets such as cruise missiles. In wartime, it is used for the front air defense and protection of key targets in the theater. Among them, low altitude early warning and communication are the two most important application fields.

"In 2012, Raytheon conducted a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) validation test in Utah. The system consists of multiple aerostats: one lifts a surveillance radar to an altitude of 10,000 feet (giving it a range of hundreds of kilometers), others carry fire-control radars, and all of them carry communications and sensor systems.

"Tests have shown that the system can hover in the air for up to 30 days to detect, track, and locate multiple threat targets, effectively thwarting attacks by enemy cruise missiles, low-altitude manned/unmanned aerial vehicles, and other targets. More importantly, the tasks undertaken by this system usually required four or five fixed-wing aircrafts to complete in the past, and the use of aerostats only requires a small number of staff, very low fuel consumption, a minimal maintenance workload, and much lower operation costs than those of fixed-wing early warning control aircraft. Hence, this system has a very high combat-effectiveness/cost ratio.

"In the communications sector, Lockheed Martin is developing a high-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerostat system for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Strategic Command. The system can be suspended at an altitude of 19,880 meters as a long-term high-altitude wireless communication signal relay platform, extending battlefield communication distances and enhancing the reliability of communications. It can also be used to improve communication capabilities of ground forces in remote areas.

"At present, the nearby space where aerostats conduct their main activities has become a new strategic commanding point that many countries are competing to seize. Developed countries – including the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, Japan and so on – are increasing their efforts in the exploration and development of nearby space and have carried out the development of various kinds of nearby-space controllable aerostats. It can be predicted that aerostats will play an increasingly important role in the future battlefield."


[1], November 21, 2014.

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