The U.S. government wants to build and deploy a huge stratospheric airship, three times the size of the Goodyear blimp, that is capable of spying on an entire city.
The idea is that the blimp, dubbed the "Integrated Sensor is Structure" (ISIS), would hover above the jet stream at 70,000 feet and use its giant, flexible radar antennae to acquire a "dynamic, detailed, real-time picture of all movement on or above the battlefield: friendly, neutral or enemy." And we thought surveillance satellites were sitting ducks.
One of the challenges has been to come up with a radar system that is large enough to track vast amounts of movement yet light enough to hang on a big bag of air.
Where there's a contract, there's a way. Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems (SAS) has landed an $8 million deal to develop a radar it says will be the length of a football field, "the largest X-band antenna ever built." Although it would contain "millions of electronic components," the antenna would be only about a centimeter thick.
SAS plans to bond the array directly to the hull of the blimp. Look for a great spin-off product here: Whatever it comes up with has to stay stuck at -112 degrees Fahrenheit in gale-force winds.
So, as regards utility, what are we talkin' here? Track Chinese naval maneuvers? Al-Qaeda mule trains? Red-light runners? Here's what the project's sponsor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has in mind: "We will apply this technology to track people emerging from buildings of interest and follow them as they move to new locations," DARPA's Paul Benda told Defensetech.org "Imagine the impact it will have if ISIS tracks the movement of individuals for months. Hidden webs of connections between people and facilities will be revealed." Better keep your nose clean, hippy.