Military contractors move from boots on the ground to eyes in the sky

Technology like GPS and air drones may offer strategic defenses against insurgent techniques.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Military contractors are girding for a switch away from boots on the ground in Iraq and are rapidly investing in technology like airships which are better suited to deal with a long-term insurgency, the Washington Post reports.

After building a business defending high-ranking officials in Iraq, Blackwater USA executives think the future may be hovering above the battlefield.

The North Carolina company is developing an airship -- think Goodyear blimp -- loaded with sensors and surveillance cameras that can quickly relay information about the ground below to clients miles away. "If bad guys are setting up IEDs on the side of the road, we can see real-time what's going on," said Chris Taylor, Blackwater's vice president for strategic initiatives, referring to improvised explosive devices, which have proved deadly against U.S. troops in Iraq.


 And Olive Group, a United Arab Emirates-based company is selling GPS to companies who want to protect employees against kidnappings. Blackwater's airship could prove to offer a new generation of research drones in the battle against IEDs and other guerilla strategies.

The U.S. military already has 1,000 drones patrolling the skies of Iraq, some armed with missiles, said Kathy Ellwood, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan Inc., a research group. But airships are a burgeoning market, she said. As the price of unmanned drones, which range in size from a large textbook to a small plane, continues to rise, some military experts see airships as a cheap alternative, she said.

Blackwater's 120-foot-long airship could be deployed quickly and stay in the air for four days, while most unmanned drones can last up to only 16 hours, Taylor said. "Because of our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, we realize the value" of having a better view of the battlefield, he said. "It offers an opportunity to see down the road a little further and around the next bend."



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