The Pentagon is set to dramatically increase spending on stratospheric aerostats, which are now being touted as able to boost US capabilities against Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles, Politico reported on Tuesday.
The project, called Covert Long-Dwell Stratospheric Architecture (COLD STAR), was originally designed to spot drug traffickers. The Pentagon started testing 25 of the balloons in the state of South Dakota as a pilot project in 2019.
However, the inflatables are now being transitioned into military service and promoted as an affordable tool to complement satellites and spy drones for detecting and tracking Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles, the outlet reported, based on the budget justification paperwork. The Pentagon confirmed the transition but declined to provide any details.
The US military has spent about $3.8 million on balloon projects over the past two years, but for fiscal year 2023 funding is slated to jump to $27.1 million, Politico said, citing budget documents.
The producer of the balloons, Raven Aerostar, a division of Raven Industries, says its platform for surveillance and communication equipment offers months of endurance at a fraction of the cost of alternatives such as high-altitude aircraft or satellite systems. It says the aerostats can identify and pick favorable air currents to drift to where they are needed.