Airships May Play Key Homeland Defense Role, Officials Say
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 5, 2004 The dirigible, or airship, may be employed as a tool to detect potential attacks against the United States, DoD officials told House subcommittee members March 4.
"We believe the best way to protect Americans is to defeat terrorists as far away from our homeland as we can," Air National Guard Maj. Gen. John A. Love said in his prepared testimony before the House Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. Love is a senior officer with U.S. Northern Command, the unified command charged with defending the United States from land, air and sea attack.
Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and National Guard Bureau chief Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum also provided testimony.
While U.S. troops are taking the fight to terrorists in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, Love asserted it's also important "to win the 'home game' by protecting, defending and defeating threats against our nation."
Recent technology demonstrations, Love said, point to the potential use of airships to patrol a 500-mile "buffer zone" established outward from the American coastline.
High-altitude airships, Love continued, could provide "over-the-horizon" surveillance across North America "and out from our coastal waters for air, ground and maritime threats."
Use of airships for homeland defense purposes, McHale explained, is consistent with DoD's charter to provide "the military defense of our nation from attacks that originate from abroad." Testing of prototype dirigibles, he said, demonstrated they "could provide wide area surveillance and communications capabilities."
McHale pointed out DoD's partner role with the Department of Homeland Security in its mission of protecting the nation against, and preparing for, acts of terrorism. DoD, McHale said, stands ready to "provide assets and capabilities in support of civil authorities, consistent with U.S. law."
National Guard Bureau chief Lt. Gen. Blum told House committee members the Guard "is uniquely suited for operational missions inside the U.S. to help protect both the American people and our critical infrastructure."
In fact, there are now 32 certified Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams, the three-star general said, noting, "More are on the way." Blum said each team features 22 Army and Air National Guard specialists trained to detect and identify chemical, biological or radiological hazards, and assist in follow-on activities.
Another initiative involves the reinforcement of WMD civil support teams, Blum noted, with "existing medical, engineer and security forces from either the Air or Army National Guard."
The result, Blum pointed out, is "a more robust capability in response to a WMD incident."