- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The white blimp hovering over Washington yesterday is leased by the Army and decked with cameras — but those cameras are not watching civilians.

The cameras are pointed at the Pentagon and are part of what the Army is calling a “proof-of-concept mission.”

The airship is equipped with infrared cameras designed to provide real-time images to military commanders on the ground. Equipment similar to that on the blimp is being used to protect troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. In combat zones, the cameras are mounted on towers and buildings.

“We are trying to see if these same sensors will work on a mobile platform,” said Lt. Col. Calvin Mitchell, who is directing the mission.

It is being tested in Washington, Col. Mitchell said, because military leaders are here, and the Army can demonstrate the success of the project to them.

But other than that, “This is not a Washington-area thing,” Col. Mitchell said, dispelling the notion that the surveillance has anything to do with the anti-terrorism tactics used in Athens during the Summer Olympics.

The 178-foot blimp could be seen over the Pentagon and the Capitol yesterday and will make at least one 24-hour flight in the D.C. area. It has been in the region since last week and also is being used for flights over the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Va., and Chesapeake Bay.

It also will support the Coast Guard’s Automatic Identification System to track ships. Authorities say there will be no weaponry involved.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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