BERLIN Feb 22 The German military plans to beef
up security for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali by deploying
a number of tethered aerostats - small airships with
threat-tracking sensors - like those used by the U.S. military
in Afghanistan, a spokeswoman for the armed forces said.
U.S. officials said they had provided information to the
German Bundeswehr about a range of options, including the
possibility of buying used aerostats built by Lockheed Martin
Corp for the U.S. Army.
The dangers facing the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali were
highlighted last month when a suicide bombing killed 77 people
at a military base housing government soldiers in the northern
town of Gao. The attack was claimed by an affiliate of al Qaeda.
Germany is increasing its role in the U.N. 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 U.S. deployment of aerostats in
Afghanistan said the U.S. Army had 40 of the 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 the likely cost.
Germany could also purchase new lighter-than-air
surveillance aerostats built by Lockheed or other suppliers, or
opt to lease the equipment, an additional 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-meter
(98-feet) surveillance tower mounted with sensors, said
Lieutenant Colonel Simone Gruen, spokeswoman for Germany's joint
forces operational command.
The German air force is sending the radars used on the NBS
MANTIS air defence system, built by Rheinmetall for
protecting the forward operating bases of the German military in
For now, only the sensors will go to Mali, but the German
military could send the full air defence system, which includes
counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems, depending on the
threat situation in the African country, said one of the
Current plans call for the aerostats to be put to use in
Mali around 2019 or 2020. However, one U.S. official said sales
of excess defense equipment could occur quickly.
"If Germany wants the aerostats, they can definitely get
them sooner than 2019 or 2020," added a second source.
Lockheed had no immediate comment on the matter.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)