Friday, July 9, 2010

Northrop's Spy Blimp ...

July 8, 2010

By Graham Warwick
AVWK Washington

Airships are survivors—a genus of aircraft that has been around since the dawn of aviation and is now being offered another chance at lasting success. This time the mission is persistent surveillance, but can undisputed endurance carve out a role for unmanned airships that lasts beyond today’s war?

As it embarks on a $517-million contract to develop the Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) for deployment by the U.S. Army to Afghanistan in early 2012, Northrop Grumman believes the unmanned airship can find long-term roles in border security and disaster relief, as a communications and surveillance platform. “There is a lot of emphasis on today’s war, but tomorrow the airship can provide inexpensive surveillance,” says Alan Metzger, Northrop Grumman LEMV program director.

The vehicle will use 15,000-20,000 lb. of fuel to stay aloft for 3-4 weeks in the surveillance role. “That’s only $20,000-25,000,” he says. The Army calculates it would take 12 MQ-9 Reaper-class fixed-wing unmanned aircraft and their crews to sustain the same mission.

The LEMV’s role is to maintain continuous surveillance over a wide area, providing correlated video, radar and signals intelligence data to the brigade combat team on the ground. Stripped of its sensors and long-endurance fuel tanks, the same vehicle could lift 20 tons of cargo with minimal modification, says Metzger, adding: “Airships are not for everything, but there are opportunities they are suited for. It will come down to economics.”


No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin