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Second Airship Launched In Test Of Missile Defense System

MIDDLE RIVER, Md. (WJZ)—The military blimp that's been floating over Aberdeen proving ground since December is about to get some company.

WJZ's Alex DeMetrick reports, a second large blimp is preparing to be launched.

Aerostat is the military name, but for the past eight months most of us who've seen it call it the blimp.

The length of a football field, it was launched at Aberdeen proving grounds in Harford County last December. Tethered to the ground, it carries radar designed to pick up threats from the air, specifically cruise missiles launched from the Atlantic that could hit Washington, D.C.

"When anyone can buy a cruise missile and put this thing on a ship or an air launch, there is a potential threat out there," said Gen. Glenn Bramhall, U.S. Army, NORAD.

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

In Iraq, they've also been equipped with cameras to track movement on the ground. The military says that's not happening above Maryland.

"There are no cameras. It's only radar designed to look for flying things, in the simplest terms. So we're looking at aircraft only. No cameras," said Lt. Shane Glass, U.S. Army.

And a second identical blimp will aid in that looking. It could join the first within the week, working in tandem around the clock.

Time is what this is all about.

"I'd rather make a decision where I have 12 to 15 minutes time, instead all of a sudden this thing pops up and I get 2 to 3 minutes," said Gen. Bramhall.

Risks to other aircraft were taken into account, and it's why Aberdeen proving grounds was chosen.

"It's a historically restricted airspace and it's part of the reason Aberdeen proving grounds was chosen for this mission, because they already had  restricted airspace so there'd be no change to a very busy air corridor," said Lt. Glass.

The radar testing is a three year mission. Whether the blimps continue to fly after that time depends on how well they worked.

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