Last updated at 12:20 AM on 26th September 2010
They may look like something from the days of the Second World War, but barrage balloons have found a new, high-tech role helping British troops in Afghanistan.
The 60ft-long drones are being deployed as hugely effective ‘spies in the sky’ to snare Taliban fighters before they mount attacks on British troops.
Bristling with sophisticated cameras, radar and electronic listening devices, the large, unmanned balloons – tethered at over 2,000ft – send live film footage of enemy activity day and night to forward operating bases and eavesdrop on insurgents’ mobile phone and radio calls from several miles away.
Aerostats are being deployed as hugely effective 'spies in the sky' to snare Taliban fighters before they mount attacks on British troops
The voice patterns of Taliban suspects may then be forwarded to the GCHQ listening centre at Cheltenham to identify Taliban commanders from those recorded earlier.
In the Second World War, barrage balloons were used to defend targets such as cities and airfields from air attack.
They forced German pilots to fly high to avoid hitting the steel cables used to tether the balloons.
The modern-day drones – known as ‘aerostats’ – in Helmand province are operated by the Royal Artillery and cost £5 million each.
They have proved an invaluable tool in preventing the Taliban laying roadside bombs – and attempts by the insurgents to shoot them down have failed as the aerostats are flown well out of their range.
Officially designated a ‘Persistent Threat Detection System’, the airships are having a significant impact on Taliban activity.
Images and audio evidence captured by the balloons are sent electronically through secure systems to a mobile monitoring station operated by a Light Electronic Warfare Team (LEWT). The team is made up of members of the Intelligence Corps and is usually situated at one of the British Army’s forward operating bases.
The information is then processed before being sent in encryp ted messages to GCHQ for analysis.
A senior source said last night: ‘The Taliban are starting to realise that these barrage balloons can see and hear everything, so the enemy can run but they cannot hide.
‘Where these have been used, we have seen a reduction in the threat. An added benefit is that the local community feel safer as we quickly make them aware of the balloon’s capabilities.
‘Thus, the aerostat has a deterrent factor on potential adver saries and develops a sense of security among the population, as it watches the area with an unblinking eye – constantly watching areas of suspected insurgent activity.
‘The technology is amazing. The bad guys haven’t got a clue about exactly how much we can see and hear.
‘The enemy can no longer do what they want and, in military terms, their freedom of manoeuvre in various towns has been fixed.’
An MoD spokesman said last night: ‘We cannot comment on specific intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance systems, but we are always striving to provide our troops on the front line with the best technology to help them bring security to Afghanistan.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1315308/2-000ft-new-barrage-balloon-spying-Taliban.html?ITO=1490#ixzz10pJK5TZW