Tethered Aerostat Radar System

The Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) is a balloon-borne radar system. The primary aerostat mission is to provide low level radar surveillance data in support of federal agencies involved in the nation's drug interdiction program. Secondary mission is to provide NORAD Headquarters with low level surveillance coverage for air sovereignty in the Florida Straits. One aerostat, located at Cudjoe Key, Fla., transmits TV Marti data sending American television signals into Cuba for the U.S. Information Agency.

The requirement for the Tethered Aerostat Radar System network was established in 1984 by the U.S. Customs Service to help counter illegal drug trafficking. The first site was built at High Rock, Grand Bahama Island, in 1984. The second site was built at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., in 1986. Overall responsibility for the program fell to Customs and the Coast Guard, until congressional language in l991 and 1992 transferred management to the Defense Department, with the Air Force as executive agent. Under Air Force management, through contract consolidation and system standardization, the operations and maintenance cost per site has been reduced approximately 50 percent from $6 million in Fiscal 1992 to the current rate of $2.8 million.

For security and safety, the air space around an aerostat site is restricted within a radius of three statute miles and an altitude up to 15,000 feet.