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Pentagon to Test Blimps for Missile Defense

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Pentagon announced plans to test a missile defense system on the eastern seaboard. It's aimed at protecting the nation's capitol which officials say is vulnerable to some forms of attack
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Pentagon announced plans to test a missile defense system on the eastern seaboard. It's aimed at protecting the nation's capitol which officials say is vulnerable to some forms of attack.

The military plans to deploy blimp like aircraft called "aerostats" over the skies of Maryland this fall.

The Army says they're needed to protect the nation's capitol. "There's a real concern that cruise missiles could fly at low level and fly very rapidly, launched by a ship, could actually threaten the Capitol," says Col. Jeff McCausland (Ret.), a CBS News Military Analyst.

One military officer tells CBS News, the prospect of a cruise missile launched at the nation's capitol is one of the country's biggest threats. He says: "As it stands today we have practically zero capability to detect it, much less defend against it." From 10,000 feet in the air, the "aerostats" will have radar that reaches from Boston to North Carolina.

The technology is already in use overseas. Aerostats in Afganistan include radar and cameras which monitor vehicles and people on the ground. "That kind of tracking technology raises privacy concerns, and the military wants to test hardware they should not be testing out on the American people," warns David Roach, attorney for the ACLU.

But the Pentagon insists the U.S. blimps won't include cameras. Vernon Herron, a homeland security analyst at the University of Maryland, says people shouldn't worry. "The technology is not designed to collect data, it's just surveillance." The military will begin testing the aerostats in October.

The blimps will be flown from the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The tests are expected to last for the next three years.


(Susan McGinnis, CBS News)
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