Electronic Weapons: Starlite Floats Above It All


April 23, 2010: The U.S. Army is installing some AN/ZPY-1 Starlite lightweight radars in aerostats (tethered blimps). This combination will be used in Afghanistan. The Starlite radar weighs 65 pounds (29.5 kg), occupies 34 cc (1.2 cubic feet), uses 750 watts of power and costs about $2.3 million each. The Starlite was originally designed for use in the army's new 1.5 ton MQ-1C Sky Warrior UAV, where it will also be installed.

Starlite can deliver photo quality black and white radar images of what is down there, in any weather. The army has developed software that enables the Starlite images to be transmitted to existing army video terminals, and automatically appear on electronic versions of standard army maps. Starlite is used in combination with vidcams and heat sensors (infrared or thermal). The army will receive at least 33 Starlites in the next two years.

The U.S. is shipping dozens of aerostats (tethered blimps) to Afghanistan. The blimp floats at about 320 meters (a thousand feet) up, tethered by a cable that provides power and communications to the radar and day/night vidcams up there. The cameras can see out to 80 kilometers at that altitude, less than half that with the radar. The major problem is not weather, but ground fire from rifles and machine-guns. Locals like using the RAID blimps as targets. Rifle fire won't destroy the blimps, but does cause them to be brought down more frequently for repairs. Normally, the blimps can stay up for 30 days at a time, but the bullet hole repairs have some of them coming down every few days. Shorter (up to 80 meters) steel tower systems also suffer gunfire damage, but rarely any that damages the equipment. It was soon found that tower mounted cameras were just as good as the aerostats, in most situation, and much cheaper. Thus there are more than twenty times as many tower systems as aerostat based ones.



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