UPDATED 11:30 AM PT — Monday, August 26, 2019
It looks like a giant white blimp hanging lazily in the air, but what appears to be nothing more than a simple balloon is part of America’s ongoing fight to keep its borders secure. It’s called the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS.
These heavy duty balloons anchored to the ground provide Border Patrol agents with a military grade security system for protecting the border. They float about 4,500 feet off the ground with two 360-degree cameras, giving agents live video feeds of around 10 to 15 miles in any direction.
#CBP Air and Marine Operations #AMO uses the Tethered Aerostat Radar System for long-range detection of low-altitude aircraft. The elevated sensor mitigates curvature of the earth and terrain masking limitations. #AirandMarineOperations.
For more info: https://t.co/NfLwwyNBO8 pic.twitter.com/y0eidpheLh
— CBP RGV (@CBPRGV) August 16, 2019
“This Aerostat has assisted Border Patrol in Rio Grande City by providing a higher level of surveillance and detection, and increasing our situational awareness, thereby allowing us to appropriately respond to threats as they’re crossing the river and even before they cross the river.”
— Alberto Olivares, CBP Special Operations Supervisor
The TARS program was previously under Air Force control and used in operations in the Middle East. The balloons were first used in the 1970s to stop smugglers from flying small aircraft into the country. Authorities said they now only see about 10 planes trying to come across the border, which is down from 10,000, because smugglers know they will be detected and arrested as soon as they land.
Back in 2013, the program moved to the Department of Homeland Security. Six of the eight largest balloons are located along the border in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona with the other two in Florida and Puerto Rico. CBP also has smaller balloons deployed across Texas.
Agents say they see smuggling of all kinds along the border, adding, the balloons have increased their effectiveness. Earlier this year, agents in Texas reported detected nearly 82,000 people trying to cross the border thanks to the balloons. They have also seized hundreds of thousands of pounds of narcotics.