The Marines debuted another new technology last week in the fight against Gadhafi's forces when the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS Kearsarge used a high-tech balloon to relay messages to the ship's AV-8B Harrier jump jets flying strike missions over Libya, beyond the range of the ship's transmitters.
Normally, the ship would have to pass messages to a nearby E-3 AWACS jet that would then send those messages along to the Harriers. However, the helium balloon-based Lofted Communications System carried aboard the Kearsarge fills that role without leaving the Marines reliant on an AWACS.
Here's how it works; depending on how far the Marines need to send messages, they send up a tethered or untethered balloon carrying a communications relay device capable of passing radio messages and encrypted information hundreds of miles to the Harriers.
All of this saves a ton of cash and keeps the dozens of airmen aboard an AWACS out of harm’s way, or frees them up to fly other missions.