June 17, 2010

Army Orders Football Field Size Airship

According to Northrop Grumman Corporation, the U.S. Army has ordered a huge hybrid airship longer than a football field to watch over battlefields in Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Northrop Grumman Corporation, the airship's builder, has received a $517 million Army contract to build the airship, called the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV).  These airships would serve as surveillance stations at 20,000 feet above sea level and could stay on watch for as long as three weeks at a time.

The LEMV would also have the capability of carrying a 2,500-pound payload while flying at 92 mph.  The 302-foot airship has a cruising speed of just 34 mph.

That represents staying power for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance over a longer period of time than what today's robotic drones like Predator or Reaper can provide.

"Our offering supports the Army's Joint Military Utility Assessment that this disruptive innovation must meet the Army's objective of a persistent unblinking stare while providing increased operational utility to battlefield commanders," Alan Metzger, Northrop Grumman LEMV program manager, told Space.com.

A heavy-lift configuration could transform the LEMV into a sky transport that carries up to 15,000 pounds.

Hybrid airships like the LEMV require vertical thrusters to help them stay aloft.  However, their incorporation of lighter-than-air gas for buoyancy helps the ship to stay up in the air for much longer than traditional aircraft or drones.

Northrop Grumman has teamed up with Hybrid Air Vehicles to get the U.S. Army airship flying.  It also plans to work with Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corporation, SAIC, and other companies from 18 U.S. states to build LEMV.

The company hopes that LEMV could eventually provide homeland defense also.


Image Caption: Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $517 million (=£350.6 million) agreement to develop up to three Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) systems for the U.S. Army.


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