Rumor: Obama to shut down southern air defense systems

The U.S. Air Force said interagency discussions are ongoing to examine options to keep the program in operation.

UNCONFIRMED: President Obama to shut down southern air defense systems.

Online blogs are saying that the United States' southern air defense systems will be shut down on March 15 due to budget cuts.

The country's southern border is in part protected by the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, which utilizes balloons on fixed mooring sytems to support counterdrug operations.

However, a spokesperson for the U.S. Air Force in Langley, Va., told MSN News that there was currently a "lot of discussion" happening about whether TARS should be discontinued.

According to an official statement released by the Air Force on the aerostat program: "In December 2011, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed that the Department of Defense end its sponsorship of the TARS program. This decision was based largely on budgetary constraints due to the current fiscal environment. Interagency discussions to examine options to keep the program in operation are ongoing."

What is TARS?

The Air Force describes TARS as an aerostat-borne surveillance program. Using the aerostat as a stationary airborne platform for a surveillance radar, the system is capable of detecting low-altitude aircraft at the radar's maximum range by mitigating the curvature of the earth and terrain-masking limitations. TARS provides a detection and monitoring capability along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Florida Straits and a portion of the Caribbean in support of the Department of Defense Counterdrug Program. 

The petition

A petition on the White House's "We the People" website is asking President Obama to keep TARS in operation to help secure the country's southern border

The petition: "The Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) is due to be shut down on 15 March. This shutdown will open one more door to those wishing to bring narcotics into our country or otherwise violate our Southern Border by removing a vital sensor system that is used by the Coast Guard, CBP, and other agencies. Direct the US Air Force and/or the Department of Homeland Security to continue operating this system in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. If we truly are concerned with the War on Drugs and wish to have a cost effective sensor to fight that war, then this sensor must remain active."

As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had gained 1,206 signatures and needed 98,794 more to get an official response.

 

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