Aerostats, ETOPS and staring matches

Staring steadily with very sharp eyes at one area has become an operational need for many countries. This stems from the need to block long sections of border from all types of infiltration – and the need to detect low flying platforms like unmanned air vehicles, and even cruise missiles.

The use of aerostats carrying electro optical and radar systems has grown dramatically in the last five years.

India is a good example – it has been deploying aerostats on some “sensitive” sections of its borders, with those currently operational supplied by Rafael from Israel.

Recently the Indian armed forces decided to beef up the array, and will soon issue a new tender.

The companies expected to bid are BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Thales, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport.

A Rafael source said that the company will bid with new versions of its aerostat-carried radar systems.

Radars mounted on aerostats enable long-range, low-altitude detection of hostile aircraft and cruise missiles.

In the last two years there have been signs that at least some aerostats will be replaced by electric tethered observation platforms (ETOP).

IAI is offering its ETOP as a direct substitute for tactical observation aerostats, deployed along borders and near sensitive installations.

IAI is in the final phase of developing the ETOP, which will become a “family” of very advanced systems in different sizes.

ETOP can either be deployed from a static station, a maritime platform or from a moving ground vehicle. It can carry a payload of up to 20kg and operate up to a maximum altitude of 100m.

ETOP combines an electrically-powered aerial platform and a ground system which includes the means for automatic deployment, cables and a mission management unit.

So, aerostats are still in demand – but the ETOP are gradually entering service.

IAI and some other Israeli companies are racing to be able to offer advanced ETOP systems of different sizes and shapes to the market.

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