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INCOMING: Height Of Surveillance
by Hartley Lesser


Viable intelligence requires surveillance of the highest caliber. To attain such, altitude is one of the mandatory tools required for mission success.

From the earliest days of humankind’s history, intelligence regarding enemy positions and activities required some form of surveillance and reconnaissance to aid in determining the proper positioning of force, and counter force, to best effect. In early June of 1783, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier launched their first altitude balloon, sans habitant, with the first human ascent in the buoyant craft just five months later. (Image, right) Balloonists could finally relish, observe and record an entirely new perspective of the world around them.

The French, in 1794, established the first balloon reconnaissance unit with use throughout the Napoleonic wars. So effective was the intelligence received from such surveillance other countries adopted this tactic during the mid-19th century with aplomb. The Austrians found balloons at height became unique platforms for bombing the enemy. They engaged the Venetians in 1849 with 200, unpiloted balloons, which performed the first aerial bombardment in history. Unfortunately, weather prognostication was rather poor at that time, and the bomb-laden balloons were blown back into the Austrian lines due to inconsiderate, poorly timed winds.

With height comes useful reconnaissance. The most successful American Civil War proponent of such use for balloons was Thaddeus Lowe who, with a telegraph officer, rose to a height of 500 feet (152 meters) in a Union balloon to view Confederate efforts. Running from the balloon rigging were telegraph wires, which enabled direct (albeit rather slow) communication to the White House and the Union War Office. With brothers Ezra and James Allen, Lowe built the aeronautic service for the Union and developed other leading technologies for the time — how to avoid trees while gaining altitude being one of the foremost. They also developed a complete system for ground to air signaling. As the Confederates noted the effectiveness of the Union balloons during the waning years of the Civil War, they, too, manufactured a balloon constructed of silk dresses. During its maiden voyage, however, the Union immediately captured their reconnaissance craft. This image shows a balloon being launched from a coal barge during the Civil War.

Other historical successes for balloons included another win-win for the French. During the Parisian siege in 1870, through the use of balloons, the French were able to move two million pieces of mail and 102 people over German emplacements. In 1880, Britain initiated a training regimen for balloons and Russia initiated aeronautic training near St. Petersburg. The reason for all of this balloon activity was to ensure one’s military had the latest intelligence gleaned from the reports of those who had a heightened view of conditions — such reconnaissance was crucial to battlefield success.

Airships, also known as blimps, improved upon the basic balloon gondola and the U.S. Navy found them to be highly useful throughout World War II, becoming the only service to use them during this conflict. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. Congress authorized 200 airships to be constructed. The navy used them for a variety of tasks, from search and rescue to scouting and reconnaissance.

Little known is that some 89,000 ships were escorted by airships that, although slower than aircraft, could remain at altitude for up to 60 hours — not a single ship so escorted was lost during the war. This photo is of L-class airships on a training flight near the Naval Air Station at Moffet Field in California in February of 1944.

Balloons at altitude, even when used strictly for defensive purposes, helped win the day. During WWII, the British used balloons to force German planes on bombing runs higher into the sky during the Battle of Britain — the aircraft either had to climb or become entangled with the guide wires anchoring the balloons to the ground. The higher in altitude the bomber, the more accurate the AA fire.< br />
During Eisenhower’s presidential administration during the Cold War, a project known as GENETRIX launched 516 balloons carrying cameras over the Iron and Bamboo Curtains. Some balloons gained altitudes of 45,800 feet Only seven percent managed to survive their missions, but those photographs provided the best reconnaissance content available at that time. The balloons also recorded wind current data, which was used in helping to determine the U-2 spy plane’s flight paths when that extremely high altitude aircraft made its debut.

For governments, the military, NGOs, and first responders, today’s satellites are the link to control a variety of resources. From determining where to establish defensive lines when battling a wild fire, from tracking enemy combatants and equipment and UAV flight routes to destroy hostile capabilities, to determining weather conditions, satellites play a surveillance and intelligence role that is without equal. With pinpoint accuracy, many of today’s military satellites possess capabilities that remain highly secretive in order to play their roles in future force planning and national defense.

The technologies involved are simply astounding and would read as intriguing, futuristic science-fiction plots — save for the fact that today they are doing their work and ensuring life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Getting high is the key to success.

We are delighted to present a number of subject matter experts and their views on intelligence and surveillance, as well as other topics of interest in this issue of MilsatMagazine.

In combination with satellites, Umanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) now provide highly detailed surveillance for use by field commanders and first repsonders. Who better to discuss such intelligence and surveillance issues with than subject matter experts Robert Demers, Senior Vice President, Howard Stevens and Brian Watson, Sales Directors, at Americom Government Services (AGS) as well as Josť Prieto, the Business Development Manager for the I&S Business Unit within GMV. Their "conversations" with MilsatMagazine are available in this issue's interactive web menu.


Hartley Lesser, Editorial Director