Two area companies have been awarded a contract valued at about $100 million to produce radar-equipped blimps that the U.S. Custom Service will use to detect drug smuggling aircraft and boats making their way into the country.
The Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group near Baltimore/Washington International Airport will serve as the prime contractor for a program called the Tethered Aerostat Radar Systems (TARS). Westinghouse will provide radar for the craft.
The other partner in the venture, TCOM L.P. in Columbia, will build the blimp used to carry the electronic surveillance equipment aloft.
The Custom Service contract calls for the production of four systems to be used for drug interdiction and surveillance at sites along the southern border of the United States and in the Bahamas.
The new blimps will join 11 others already operated by the Department of Defense.
They are designed to construct a "picket fence" that provides virtually unbroken coverage along the southern border -- from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, Westinghouse said.
"Westinghouse is making a significant contribution to the Customs Service's efforts in stopping drugs at our borders," said Richard A. Linder, president of the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group.
Mr. Linder said the blimp radar system will expand the government's coverage by detecting airborne and maritime targets with an improved version of the Westinghouse system already in use.
James J. Bitoni, president and chief executive of TCOM, said the teaming of the technology leaders provides the Department of Defense and the Customs Service with "the most reliable surveillance platform as well as the most effective radar available for this mission.
According to the Customs Service, the success of the aerostat-based radar surveillance has been clearly demonstrated by the sharp decline in drug traffic within the areas covered by the system currently installed.
The government said that drug traffickers have been forced to make longer and riskier flight routes or have, in many cases, abandoned the use of aircraft altogether.
The TARS sytems features a 71-meter long blimp designed to carry a 3,000 pound radar payload to 15,000 feet, 24 hours a day for up to 30 consecutive days.
The local division of Westinghouse Electric Corp. has set a goal of having 50 percent of its business come from non-Pentagon sales by the year 1995.