|Pakistan possesses ‘poor man’s version’ of drones|
11 June 2009
LONDON: Pakistan is among 20 countries which possess Blimps, the poor man’s version of drone aircraft costing around $50,000 each, as against the price of regular drones which varies between $4.5 million and $35 million.
A report (Spies in the Sky) in the current edition of The Economist weekly (June 4, 2009) said Predator and Global Hawk, two types of American drone frequently flown in Afghanistan and Iraq, cost around $5,000 and $26,000 an hour while the less elegant Blimps can keep surveillance and ordnance-guiding equipment aloft for a few hundred dollars an hour.
The report said Afghanistan was expected to develop into a bigger market for Blimps than Iraq because it was difficult to pick up satellite signals in the valleys of that mountainous country. As a result, Blimps, adjusted to hover at appropriate heights, are often used to relay data to and from satellites.
‘Blimps can stay in the air for more than a week, whereas most drones fly for no more than 30 hours at a time. They are also easy to deploy, because no airfield is needed. A Blimp can be stored in the back of a jeep, driven to a suitable location, launched in a couple of hours and winched down again even faster.’
‘Unlike other aircraft, Blimps do not need to form a precise aerodynamic shape. This means they can lift improbable objects into the sky, such as dangling radar equipment. At altitudes of just a few hundred metres, a Blimp carrying 20kg of remote-sensing electronics (including radar and thermal-imaging cameras) can identify, track and provide images of combatants dozens of kilometres away, by day or night. It can also help commanders aim the lasers that guide their missiles.’
‘Blimps often operate beyond the range of machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Even if they are hit, though, they do not explode because the helium gas that keeps them airborne is not flammable. Moreover, they usually stay aloft even when punctured: the pressure of the helium inside a Blimp is about the same as that of the air outside, so the gas does not rush out. Indeed, towards the end of 2004, when a Blimp broke its tether north of Baghdad and started to drift towards Iran, the American air force had trouble shooting it down.’
‘At least 20 countries use Blimps — both global military powers, such as America, Britain and France, and smaller regional ones, including Ireland, Pakistan, Poland and the United Arab Emirates.’
However, the report does not say why the US does not let Islamabad use its own Blimps inside Pakistani territory instead of sending in the costly drones which also cost the government in Islamabad heavily in domestic political terms.
The report is also silent on whether Pakistan is using the Blimps in its campaign against militants in Swat, Buner, Malakand, Bajaur and Dir.And one more question: If it is true that Pakistan has the Blimps then why does Islamabad keep asking the US for drones?
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