Demand for spy balloons in Afghan war hits high

USA Today reports that the Pentagon is sending dozens of the balloons to Afghanistan to meet a growing military demand for video surveillance of insurgents. The balloons with high-powered cameras are needed because unmanned planes such as the Predator can’t be built fast enough. There are more than 30 spy balloons in Afghanistan, up from a handful at the beginning of the year, Carter said. The goal is to have 64 of them tethered thousands of feet above bases and key roads. At $10 million apiece, the balloons are about half as expensive as drones and the equipment and personnel needed to fly them, he said. Occasionally, they have been lost in high winds, although a few were recovered.

IEEE reports in related news that the data deluge from these UAV’s is likely to get worse.

By next year, a single new Reaper drone will record 10 video feeds at once, and the Air Force  plans to eventually upgrade that number to 65. John Rush, chief of the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division of the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, projects that it would take an untenable 16 000 analysts to study the video footage from UAVs and other airborne surveillance systems.

The best—and perhaps only—way forward is to have a computer watch it all. But programming a system to automatically search video and pick out noteworthy information is not an easy problem. And so far, no one has developed software that can keep up with the military’s high-tech hardware.


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