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Hot air is US military's newest weapon against China and Russia
Last Updated : 05 Jul 2022 11:03:05 PM IST


The Pentagon is working on a new plan to rise above competition from China and Russia: balloons, a report said.

The high-altitude inflatables, flying at between 60,000 and 90,000 feet, would be added to the Pentagon's extensive surveillance network and could eventually be used to track hypersonic weapons, Politico reported.


The idea may sound like science fiction, but Pentagon budget documents signal the technology is moving from DoD's scientific community to the military services.
"High or very high-altitude platforms have a lot of benefit for their endurance on station, maneuverability and also flexibility for multiple payloads," said Tom Karako, senior fellow for the International Security Program and Missile Defense Project director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Politico reported.
The Pentagon continues to invest in these projects because the military could use the balloons for various missions.
Over the past two years, the Pentagon has spent about $3.8 million on balloon projects, and plans to spend $27.1 million in fiscal year 2023 to continue work on multiple efforts, according to budget documents.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is working on its own hypersonic weapons program, despite Wednesday's failure of the latest test.
A bright spot for the US is the balloons may help track and deter hypersonic weapons being developed by China and Russia.
China surprised the Pentagon in August by testing a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile, which narrowly missed its target by roughly two dozen miles.
Russia began ramping up hypersonic weapons development in response to the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. The Russian government claimed to fire a hypersonic missile in an attack on Ukraine in March, marking its first use in combat.
That's one way the balloons could be useful -- augmenting expensive satellites in tracking the missiles. The teardrop-shaped balloons harvest complex data and navigate using AI algorithms, Politico reported.

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