News: Balloon watches over ISAF elements from high above battlefield
Story by Sgt. Richard Andrade
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan – Civilian contractors from Lockheed Martin maintain the Persistent Threat Detection System day and night to observe movement to detect and report any threats to U.S. and International Security Assistance Force elements.
The PTDS is equipped with multi-mission sensors to provide long term intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The system provides force protection for Spin Boldak and for the outside entities working around the forward operation base.
“We provide 24 hour surveillance, and we search for any threat to the FOB [Spin Boldak],” said Michael Barbito, Senior Field Engineer and camera operator for the PTDS.
The Virgie, Ky., native said the system can pre-scan any area before a convoy goes through it and detect improvised explosive devices that have been placed.
“We like to make sure that our guys are going to be safe,” he said.
The PTDS provides protection in many different forms. Some aerostats carry communications transponders, giving troops more reliable radio communications. In some cases it can help guide troops back to a location if they are lost.
“I have done that from previous sites,” said Barbito.
“We take pride when a soldier comes up to us and say, ‘Hey thanks man, thanks for covering us.’ That means a lot because we know we are doing you [coalition forces] that service,” he said.
When a convoy rolls out and every truck comes back, it is one step towards success. When an IED is found it is possible at that moment and time many lives were saved.
“The whole point of this project is to make sure that the warfighters stay safe,” said Barbito.
The Navy veteran said even though he no longer wears the uniform he is very much part of the fight. The service provided by the PTDS is vital to the safety of all servicemembers as well as the local population of Spin Boldak.
In an area like Afghanistan, where camps are often surrounded by hills and not much else, PTDS is a critical element in the security system that keeps the bases safe, and provides air overwatch for any troops operating within range of the aerostats cameras.
Conrad Collins, PTDS Senior Field Engineer and camera operator for Lockheed Martin said, “The capabilities of the PTDS are great. It’s eye in the sky allows us to see things before they [soldiers] see it sometimes, it definitely saves lives.”
As far as the war in Afghanistan, the PTDS is doing what it was built for; helping to eliminate the insurgent threat.
“If it’s out there, we’re going to see it,” Collins said.