The UK Ministry of Defence has tapped the services of defense contractor Sierra Nevada to supply high-altitude balloons (HAB) for use as a communications relay and surveillance platform.

Part of the country’s Project Aether, the balloons can rapidly maneuver to any area of interest to provide “ultra-persistent, wide-area communications.”

They also provide advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability to the military.

As a communications relay, the HAB transmits information in near real time for use by existing systems aboard aircraft and ships.

“Sierra’s mature HAB outperforms other platforms with its ability to integrate larger payloads and recover those payloads much more quickly,” Sierra Nevada vice president Josh Walsh said.

“Balloons offer higher operational altitudes than aircraft and can provide longer observing times at much lower size, weight, power, and cost than traditional ISR platforms.”

Demonstration of the cutting-edge system is expected later this year.

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