The New Spy Balloon That Watches Over Israel

Psalm 121 says, “He that watches over Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” The IDF and its US technology partners are adding their efforts as well

By David Shishkoff | | Topics: IDF
Illustration. Photo: Public domain

A recent joint ceremony marked the inauguration of a new “Zeppelin” balloon hovering at an undisclosed location in the Galilee – an “eye in the sky” watching over the borders of northern Israel and beyond. On the underside of the blimp advanced sensors look unblinkingly toward Iranian and other threats, to give advanced warning so that the IDF generals can respond to airborne threats facing the small country before they penetrate our airspace.

The entire width of Israel from the Syrian border on the Golan Heights to the coastal metropolis of Haifa, is only 80 km (around 50 miles). The distance from the border with Lebanon and its Iranian-controlled Hezbollah to Haifa is only 30 km (around 20 miles).

The blimp and its associated system is called “Sky Dew” – Tal Shamayim (טל שמיים) in Hebrew. It was first inflated and sent aloft several months back and provided a spectacular and surreal experience for residents and visitors in the whole area. For Galileans suddenly seeing it from their window or yard, the white balloon was reminiscent of a child’s Helium balloon or a 1960s era science fiction film – especially when illuminated on a foggy night.

Although the balloon is impossible to hide, official data has understandably not been released regarding the classified details of its performance and payload. The balloon has already been seen ascending aloft to heights of around 1 km. The extra height allows the airborne radar sensor technologies to peer much further into enemy territory than land-based sensors, and thus give a clearer picture of imminent threats and grant longer advance warning.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “I congratulate … the Israel Air Force, Israel Aircraft Industries and the American partners, on another technological breakthrough that will augment the protection of the skies of Israel and the citizens of Israel. The success of the new system fortifies the wall of defense that Israel has built in the face of both distant and nearby air threats being formed by its enemies. Through the detection capabilities, and the multi-layered defense system, Israel’s advantage in the region will be preserved, and the operational scope required to maintain its security will be enabled.”

Head of Project Moshe Fattal, of the Ministry of Defense – Directorate of Defense Research & Development (IMOD DDR & D) added: “In the past year, we have proven in a large number of successful experiments, the ability of the entire multilayer defense system to cope with advanced threats, including cruise missiles. The project management… together with the American Missile Defense Agency, in cooperation with the Air Force and Industries, continues to strengthen Israel’s detection capabilities. The aerial detection balloon will fly at high altitude, will see long distances and will allow maximum detection capability of advanced threats from different directions. ”


19th century technology meets 21st century technology

The basic technology of filling a balloon with a gas lighter than air so that it can “float,” has been around for hundreds of years. Zeppelin balloons even provided air transport in the early 1900s, although they were quite slow compared to modern jetliners. They were relatively safe as long as they were filled with inert Helium gas as opposed to its flammable alternative Hydrogen gas.

In an era of continued, dizzying technological advances it seems counterintuitive that this “simple” method should still be in use. Nevertheless, it proves to be a reliable and cost effective means of posting surveillance equipment high in the sky at a stable vantage point to see farther than what is visible at ground level or even mountain top elevations. Advanced warning aircraft (AWACS) can perform similar functions but require constant movement, a lot of jet fuel, and putting a crew of technicians high in the sky. Israeli surveillance balloons have been posted at the northern border with Lebanon in the past, as well as over the Southern Negev Desert. The Sky Dew in the North, boasts new and advanced capabilities. The unmanned, tethered craft is one of the largest of its kind in the world.


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