Established in 2011, French company A-NSE specialises in aerostats, including captive balloons, for civil and military applications. The types used for maritime surveillance are designed to carry sensor payloads ranging from radars to electro-optical devices and AIS receivers as well as electronic warfare suites. Aerostats offer significant benefits — not least their payload capacity and the ability to remain aloft and stationary for up to 24 hours in the case of crewed airships or 40 days for captive balloons. A-NSE has the expertise to keep captive balloons aloft and stable in changing weather conditions with relative winds of up to 60kts. Ground-controlled captive balloons for coastal surveillance can supplement or replace traditional coastal stations while offering significantly greater detection ranges. From an altitude of 1000m, sensor range is around 100nm.
Captive balloons can also be deployed by ships at sea to increase the range of their sensors or relay communications. The size of the balloon depends on size of the ship. A-NSE offers a range of types from 3m-diameter near-spherical tactical versions flying at 300m and carrying a 1kg payload to models up to 25m in length that fly at 1000m and carry a 200kg payload. This last type can be deployed by two people in 45 minutes. In 2017, A-NSE plans to test a 25m captive balloon as part of an experimental programme set up by the French ministry of defence. The aim is to explore the concept’s potential for the surveillance of maritime approaches and critical sites on shore, two applications for which the company has already delivered several systems.
A-NSE has also developed a captive balloon concept for the Total group. Equipped with a radar and an optronic surveillance system, this TC350 balloon will be deployed by a barge anchored off the coast of West Africa to protect one of the customer’s offshore oil fields.
After having delivered ten aerostat systems for civil and military applications since it was first set up, A-NSE won its first orders for crewed airships. With two pilots and up to four payload operators, these airships can be equipped with powerful sensor suites and a mission system (e.g. Thales Amascos). In 2014, the company built a 38m-long AN-1800 with a payload capability of 450kg then later received an order for a 43m-long version carrying a 750kg maritime surveillance payload.
Written by Vincent Groizeleau, translated by Steve Dyson