" The US military is conducting wide-area surveillance tests across six midwest states using experimental high-altitude balloons, documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reveal.
Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois.
Travelling in the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 65,000ft, the balloons are intended to “provide a persistent surveillance system to locate and deter narcotic trafficking and homeland security threats”, according to a filing made on behalf of the Sierra Nevada Corporation, an aerospace and defence company.
“[We would like to know] what they are they doing with that data, how they are storing it, and whether they are contemplating deploying this in the US,” said the ACLU’s Stanley. “Because if they decide that it’s usable domestically, there’s going to be enormous pressure to deploy it.”
The Southcom surveillance tests are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Scott Wickersham, the vice-president of Raven Aerostar, told the Guardian that it has also been working with Sierra Nevada and the Pentagon’s research arm Darpa on a “highly sophisticated and challenging development around the stratosphere”. This refers to the agency’s Adaptable Lighter-Than-Air (Alta) program, an ongoing effort to perfect stratospheric balloon navigation which has included multiple launches across the country, Wickersham said.
Ryan Hartman said that World View had also completed a dozen surveillance test missions for a customer it would not name, capturing data he would not specify."
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