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Military Blimps Floating Over Baltimore Area Labeled A 'Failure'

BALTIMORE (WJZ)--A major blow for American taxpayers.

The military blimps floating over the Baltimore area since December are being labeled a "failure," according to a newly released investigation by The Tribune.

WJZ's Rick Ritter has the details.

In Baltimore, it's a sense of safety above the city skyline, but some are now calling it a complete waste of taxpayer money.

"This is a completely expensive white elephant," said Michael Greenberger, University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.

The blimps are known as an aerostat--tethered to the ground--they carry radar designed to pick up threats from the air, specifically cruise missiles or drones.

At 10,000 feet above Aberdeen, radar can scan from Boston to North Carolina.

"It's a simply a radar that's designed to look for flying things only," said Lt. Shane Glass, U.S. Army.

A recent investigation by The Tribune says there are several flaws in the blimps, citing a 2012 report by the Pentagon that faulted the system in "critical" performance areas, rated its reliability "poor", and says software glitches have "weakened" its ability to communicate with the nation's air defense networks--which is its main purpose.

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The Tribune says the testing shows the blimps have struggled to track flying objects and distinguish friendly aircraft from those that are threatening.

In April, a man flew a small gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol without being detected.

Michael Greenberger says it's an embarrassment, stating that the blimps are supposed to detect things like a gyrocopter.

Army leaders have tried to kill the system in the past, an idea many expect they'll push for again.

Ritter: "Would you consider these blimps a total failure?

"Unless I saw evidence through the contrary, it seems like a total failure," said Greenberger.

Greenberger says it will be hard for members of Congress to continue to support the system, one that's had 17 years of research and more than $2-billion spent on it.

Experts say even if the problems were overcome, it would be extremely expensive to deploy enough of the airships to protect the U.S. along its boarders and coasts.

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