Multinational high-tech group runs Olympics security blimp

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

ATHENS Greece has launched a manned air ship for surveillance over the Olympic Games.

A police officer stands in front of an airship at an old airfield in Athens on July 22. The airship, fitted with cameras and sensors, will help provide security at the Athens Olympics. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
Greek authorities said the first flight of the Phoebus blimp on July 23 over Athens was a test of the platform's surveillance and communications capabilities.

The blimp, which contains dome-shaped sensors, and equipment to detect chemical weapons, was meant to relay video images to the Olympic Security Operations Center, officials said.

The command and control center, valued at $312 million and supplied by a consortium led by the U.S. firm Science Applications International Corp., would also be fed information from more than 1,000 cameras and sensors in the Olympic Village and around the Greek capital.

SAIC leads a consortium that includes Germany's Siemens, the U.S. firms General Dynamics and Honeywell International and Israel's Elbit Systems.

After a four-day delay because of high winds, the 61-meter long platform spent three hours aloft in what officials termed a successful flight.

Officials said the blimp has been equipped with advanced observation and data link technology meant to monitor the Olympic Village and the rest of Athens. The blimp was manned by five police officers trained in operating the platform.

On July 25, Greece tested the C2 center in an exercise termed "Olympic Hermes." The exercise sought to test the monitoring of Athens by air and ground units.

The zeppelin will also be linked to security forces deployed around Olympic facilities as well as security vehicles. The vehicles would include those transporting foreign dignitaries who would be alerted immediately to any threat.

Officials said the blimp, manufactured by a Swiss firm, would begin regular flights in August. The games have been scheduled for Aug. 13. Greek Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis expressed satisfaction over the operation of the air ship. He said the platform would faciliate the maximum level of communications between the operators and the C2 center.

"I can say that we are ready," Voulgarakis said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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