In December 2011, TCOM, LP in Columbia, MD received a $10.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Kuwait Low Altitude Surveillance System aerostat’s contractor engineering technical support (CETS). While the aerostat itself could be handled by commercial sale protocols, CETS operation and maintenance of the KLASS aerostat is considered to be a Foreign Military Sale item, in pursuit of a “mission essential asset for this sensitive region of the world.” Work will be performed in Kuwait (90%); Columbia, MD (5%); and Elizabeth City, NC (5%), and is expected to be complete by December 2013. Kuwait directed its agents at US Marine Corps Systems Command in Quantico, VA to sole-source this buy (M67854-12-C-2404).
These kinds of tethered lighter-than-air craft come in a range of sizes, and aerostats have become a global trend. Their ability to carry sensors aloft for weeks at a time greatly improves radar and/or optical surveillance systems’ field of view at near-zero per-hour deployment costs. This makes them especially effective at protecting military bases or key national infrastructure, but they’ve also been deployed to provide coverage over cities, border patrol, and coastal surveillance. Larger aerostats, like the TCOM 71s used in the USA’s JLENS system, can offer the kind of coverage that normally requires high-end AWACS aircraft.