Pentagon to launch blimps to guard against cruise missiles

THE PENTAGON -- The Pentagon has discovered a gap in the defenses of Washington, D.C., and it's about to test a solution.

But depending on your point of view, the solution is either vital for national security or a threat to American privacy.

Starting this fall, two blimps will float at 10,000 feet over the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in an attempt to develop a defense for the nation's capital against cruise missiles fired from ships offshore.

blimp.jpg
Two blimps will float over the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland
CBS News
Russia already has a large arsenal of cruise missiles - essentially low-flying unmanned aircraft - and other countries like Iran are developing them.

"As it stands today, we have practically zero capability to detect it, much less defend against it," one military officer said of the cruise missile threat.

The blimps carry radars that can search for hundreds of miles to detect the launch of a cruise missile and relay the data to interceptor missiles which have been positioned around Washington since Sept. 11, 2001.

blimp_map.jpg
Iran is developing cruise missiles
CBS News
But those same blimps can also be outfitted with radars capable of tracking vehicles on the ground and with cameras that can watch people, much like blimps already do at U.S. bases in Afghanistan and along the border with Mexico. That would give government the ability to follow American citizens as they go about their daily lives.

Officials insist they have no plans to put cameras on the blimps, but Christopher Calabrese of the ACLU points out there's no law against it.

blimp_two.jpg
The blimps carry radars
CBS News
 "Right now there are no rules," he said. "There's nothing that bars us from having high-powered cameras monitoring our every public movement."

Blimps are an old-fashioned technology, but this is a modern-day dilemma, much like the controversy over NSA eavesdropping. Government efforts to make Americans safer also have the potential to invade their privacy.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter