Thailand’s Insurgency: The Blimp and I
In early 2009, Aria International, Inc. announced a contract from the Royal Thai Army to provide in-country surveillance and communications solutions and services, for an aggregate purchase price of $9.7 million. The RTA surveillance system consists of a manned airship with military-grade imaging and communications systems, an armored Command and Control vehicle, and upgrades to existing communications and facilities to receive real-time surveillance data.
Thailand has the questionable distinction of being saddled with the bloodiest Islamist insurgency most people have never heard of. The American export system that has hindered their order is well known around the world… but it looks like everything has been ironed out. Unfortunately, Thailand hasn’t been able to get much value out of its new asset.
- Thailand’s Airship Program [updated]
- Contracts & Key Events
Thailand’s Airship Program
The Thai government recently began to alter its approach to the pan-Islamist insurgency, but this does not remove the need for military operations – or for the long-endurance surveillance that must accompany holding operations in contested zones. The Thai government has purchased a couple of CyberEye II small tactical UAVs from Australian manufacturer Cyber Technologies, but their 6-10 hour endurance falls short of what’s required.
Major General Chawalit Srisilpanandana, Director General-Directorate of the Royal Thai Army’s Logistics Department, says that:
“The deployment of these new systems and services by Aria International Incorporated will make a significant impact on the capabilities of our deployed forces in the South of Thailand.”
The system’s components include:
Aeros A-40D Sky Dragon Airship. FAA-certified, manufactured by Worldwide Aeros Corporation. The base sensor platform. At altitude, the A-40D Sky Dragon also has the advantage of being impossible to hear, thus keeping monitoring activity more covert than many smaller UAVs, or helicopters.
An Airship Hangar and Living Quarters. The living quarters were built for Aria and project personnel on a base in the South of Thailand, to avoid imposing on the Thai Army as it built up forces in the south.
A Grizzly Armored Vehicle. Configured as a Mobile Command Vehicle, capable of receiving all the information and also guiding operations on the ground in a very hostile environment. The Grizzly in question is a blast-resistant armored truck designed and built by Blackwater USA (now Xe). It was entered in the USA’s aborted MRAP-II competition, but the vehicle division was closed in November 2008. The RTA’s vehicles was presumably purchased second-hand, and many of its parts are common to the
Axsys V-14 MSII Cameras. These multi-axis stabilized turrets by General Dynamics subsidiary Axsys offer long range day/night surveillance. The package includes 5 cameras in total, 3 of which will be installed on Thai Army helicopters (2 Bell 212s, and 1 UH-1H Huey). Another 3 helicopters will be configured to be able to deploy this turret, ensuring availability n the air.
Troll Systems down-link systems. To transmit live HDTV pictures to multiple locations simultaneously and over extended distances. Troll’s down-link systems have been installed on all airborne platforms used in the program, allowing airborne video to stream to other airborne team members, tactical operations centers, the mobile command vehicle, and intelligence centers, for possible relay to locations in Bangkok.
Contracts & Key Events
Another THB 50 million ($1.625 million) was reportedly agreed on Sept 20/12, in order to make the airship ready by November 2012, which includes fixes to the airship’s cameras and video streaming systems.
Meanwhile, Aria International’s web site is blank.
March 30/10: Aria International Inc. announces that it successfully demonstrated its airship-based surveillance system to the Royal Thai Army (RTA), including helicopter mountings and ground systems. The final test and acceptance process “is proceeding and is anticipated to be completed in the very near future.” Azooptics | Shephard Group.
Nov 3/09: The Bangkok Post quotes Thai Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who said that deployment of their airship is held up by American export bureaucracies, and could result in contract cancellation.
“High-definition security cameras are considered to be warfare equipment and can’t be acquired without going through strict procedures… Internal coordination between the manufacturer of the airship and the US administration is required before the endorsement for the export of the cameras… That should take some time. And I do not know how long it will take.”
The project was originally scheduled for launch in October 2009. Thai Army staff are being trained to fly the airship, and construction of the airship hangar in Pattani has just started. The construction delay will buy the project some time, but resolution will be required soon. One obvious alternative, of course, is to have the Thai government purchase a surveillance turret from a European or Israeli supplier, and hand it over as government-furnished equipment. This would require a contract adjustment, but may be quicker.
July 13/09: Aria International announces that its Thai partner NEO P.E.B CO., LTD. wil now begin the process of building an airship hangar and support facility in “southern Thailand” (later revealed to be Pattani), per the terms of the contract.
July 1/09: Aria International announces that it has completed purchase of an Aeros 40D “Sky Dragon” Airship, S/N A40D-21, from Aeros Aeronautical Systems Corp. in Montebello, CA. Delivery to Thailand is expected “in a few days,” and Aria has pre-positioned its permanent team in Thailand.
April 30/09: Aria announces the contract. The airship itself is made by Aeros, but under this contract, Aria is responsible for integrating all system components and delivering a complete turn-key solution, conducting initial operations, and continuing maintenance. A condition of the contract requires the Company to configure equipment in the U.S. and integrate and deliver the hardware in Thailand within 120 days of contract award, to include day/night surveillance equipment.
Aria will also provide the RTA with certain ancillary services including installation, training, and the construction of an airship hangar. Aria International release.