The US military is working on using high-altitude balloons to monitor China and Russia, according to a report by POLITICO.
The balloons, capable of flying at up to 90,000 feet (27.4 kilometers), would reportedly become a part of the country’s extensive surveillance network for tracking hypersonic weapons.
The development comes amid international concern that Russia and China are ahead of the US in hypersonic missile technology.
According to budget documents obtained by the outlet, the US Department of Defense has signaled its intention to move the technology beyond the scientific community to various military services.
“High or very high-altitude platforms have a lot of benefit for their endurance on station, maneuverability and also flexibility for multiple payloads,” senior fellow for the International Security Program Tom Karako said.
American technology firm Raven Aerostar said that its high-altitude balloon is powered by batteries charged by solar panels.
The craft has a flight control unit and a payload electronics package responsible for flight safety, navigation, and communications.
The military surveillance balloon takes advantage of wind speed and direction to move toward its target area, using machine-learning algorithms to predict wind direction and fuse incoming sensor data.
The balloon is reportedly designed for missions performed by traditional aircraft and satellites.
The US Department of Defense continues to invest in developing hypersonic weapons and interceptors.
However, its hypersonic weapons program has faced setbacks.
Earlier this month, a newly-developed missile capable of traveling five times the speed of sound failed during a trial.
Meanwhile, China conducted a hypersonic test in August, with a nuclear-capable missile that narrowly missed its target.
Russia has also ramped up its hypersonic weapons development in response to the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002.