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thedrifter
09-11-03, 05:54 AM
Navy hopes blimp can be eye in the sky

Airship equipped with sensor array

By James W. Crawley
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

September 10, 2003

The Navy is experimenting with something more familiar to football fans than sailors a blimp.

Not the Goodyear blimp used as an eye-in-the-sky TV camera at football games and holiday parades, but a smaller version normally used to advertise products from film to radios.

The Office of Naval Research with the Naval Air Systems Command is working with a Hawaii-based contractor to develop an airborne camera system that can help locate anything from terrorists to lost aircraft or whales.

"Everyone wants real-time, high-resolution data on demand," Stephen Huett, a Navy program manager, said yesterday.

An airship outfitted with several sensors, including television and infrared cameras, could provide video and photos to military, federal, state and local authorities, he added.

The information could be used for anti-terrorism surveillance, patrolling the coastline, military base security, search and rescue, local crowd and traffic control, disaster relief and environmental observations, he said.

"One asset that serves many," Huett said.

Blimps are something novel to modern sailors. But until 1961, when the Navy discarded its last airship, blimps were used to hunt down Nazi U-boats during World War II, search for marooned sailors and patrol the coasts.

For the demonstration program, the Navy is using a 200-foot-long blimp owned by Airship Management Services Inc., a Connecticut-based company that operates five blimps around the world. Two pilots fly the helium-filled airship, while two technicians operate the sensors from the gondola suspended below the blimp.

Aboard the blimp, a special camera hooked to a computer seeks out "anomalies," which could be a scuba diver, camouflaged tent, aircraft wreckage or an endangered whale.

Once an anomaly is detected, the computer flashes a signal to a technician who can train a high-powered video camera on the area or radio the pictures back to a command center for interpretation.

Called LASH, for littoral airborne sensor hyperspectral, the sensor can find an out-of-place splotch of color, reflection or the below-surface shadow of an anti-ship mine or a whale, said Greg Plumb with Hawaii-based defense contractor Science and Technology International. The company has a $4 million contract with the Navy to test the system.

The sensor isn't an infrared camera like those used on military aircraft and police helicopters, Plumb said.

Instead, it uses a special camera that is sensitive to visible light rays but splits images into thousands of different colors. Then a computer analyzes the images for colors that may indicate something amiss or of special interest.

Yesterday, technicians demonstrated the system by pointing the hyperspectral camera at a grove of trees off Otay Mesa Road. Beneath the branches was an ersatz "terrorist camp."

Plumb's company planted four blue tarps among the trees to show off the system.

Cruising in the blimp at 40 miles per hour at 3,000 feet, only one blue tarp could be seen by the naked eye. But the on-board camera noted three more tiny splotches of color through the foliage.

Red circles marked each spot, and a technician zoomed in on the locations with a high-powered telephoto lens attached to a TV camera.

"We can penetrate foliage and water, which infrared can't," Plumb said.

A blimp provides a more stable and longer endurance platform for the hyperspectral scanner than an airplane or helicopter, he added. It also can see more clearly than a high-flying spy satellite.

"Our goal is to create the ultimate sensor package . . . that can monitor the air, ground and beneath the sea," he added.

After the demonstration program, Huett hopes the Navy will fund a more extensive test centered in San Diego that would offer surveillance and search-and-rescue services to local Navy commanders along with federal, state and local agencies from the Border Patrol to local police and fire services.

"If we can make it easier for local law enforcement, then it makes (the Navy's) job easier," he said.

If it flies in San Diego, the blimp system could expand to other areas, he suggested.

"This is just to plant the seed," Huett said.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James W. Crawley:
(619) 542-4559; jim.crawley@uniontrib.com

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/images/030910blimp_inside.jpg

HOWARD LIPIN / Union-Tribune
Heather Griffith, an analyst with defense contractor Science and Technology International, processes data aboard the blimp Tuesday.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20030910-9999_1m10blimp.html

Sempers,

Roger
:marine:

thedrifter
09-11-03, 05:56 AM
New, heftier barrier floats shield carriers at North Island

By James W. Crawley
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

September 10, 2003

Terrorists and wayward boaters will have a tougher time getting close to the Navy's aircraft carriers berthed at North Island Naval Air Station.

Over the weekend, the Navy installed a heftier set of barrier floats around the three carrier piers at the base.

A chain of 82-foot-long inflatable floats, each eight feet in diameter, now form a protective line in the restricted waters around North Island, base commanding officer Capt. David Landon said yesterday.

The new barrier, which replaces a string of floats that were two feet in diameter, is meant to stop any terrorist attempt to ram a ship with an explosives-laden boat. Such an attack in October 2000 killed 17 sailors aboard the destroyer Cole in Yemen.

"If someone crosses (the barrier), it won't be a casual crossing," Landon said.

The barrier, tested in the bay in May 2001, will stop any small boat, including speedboats and large pleasure boats, Navy officials said.

During the test, a remotely controlled speedboat slammed into a test float, breaking the boat's keel. Navy officials could not provide a price tag yesterday for the new boat guards.

"It's like inflating a Greyhound bus," Landon said. The inflatable bladders form a floating wall in the bay. Similar large float barriers will be installed at the Point Loma Submarine Base in coming months. North Island's older floats will be moved to waters near the San Diego Naval Station at 32nd Street.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James W. Crawley:
(619) 542-4559; jim.crawley@uniontrib.com

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/military/20030910-9999_1n10barrier.html


Sempers,

Roger
:marine: