Germany wants aerostats for Mali surveillance


The German military plans to beef up security for the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali by deploying tethered aerostats – small airships with threat-tracking sensors – similar to those used by the US military in Afghanistan, an armed forces spokeswoman said.

US officials said they had provided information to the German Bundeswehr about options, including the possibility of buying used aerostats built by Lockheed Martin for the US Army.

The dangers facing UN peacekeepers in Mali were highlighted last month when a suicide bombing killed 77 people at a military base housing government soldiers in Gao. The attack was claimed by an affiliate of al Qaeda.

Germany is increasing its role in the UN force this year by deploying eight attack and transport helicopters and 350 more soldiers to boost its contingent to around 1,000 of the total force of 15,000.

A source familiar with the US deployment of aerostats in Afghanistan said the US Army had 40 Lockheed-built Persistent Threat Detection System airships on hand that could be sold at a discount to other countries. No immediate information was available about cost.

Germany could also purchase new lighter-than-air surveillance aerostats built by Lockheed or other suppliers, or opt to lease the equipment, another source said.

Aerostats could be used to provide radar surveillance to detect threats such as drones or surface targets.

Until they are acquired, the military will erect a 30 metre surveillance tower fitted with sensors, said Lieutenant Colonel Simone Gruen for Germany’s joint forces operational command.

The German Air Force is sending radars used on the NBS MANTIS air defence system, built by Rheinmetall for protecting forward operating bases of the German military in Afghanistan.

For now, only the sensors will go to Mali, but the German military could send a full air defence system, including counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems, depending on the threat situation in the African country, said one source.

Current plans call for the aerostats to be put to use in Mali around 2019 or 2020. A US official said sales of excess defence equipment could occur quickly.
“If Germany wants aerostats, they can definitely get them sooner than 2019 or 2020.”