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Edited by Christian Lowe | Contact

Pentagon Pushes For Unblinking Surveillance

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

U.S. plans to deploy an unmanned surveillance airship to Afghanistan are moving forward, with a contract for the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) demonstration expected to be awarded by year-end.

Designed to stay aloft for three weeks carrying a heavy payload of wide-area sensors, the airship is becoming a flagship for Defense Dept. efforts to provide unblinking airborne surveillance to defeat the threat from roadside bombs.

With other programs pushing unmanned aircraft to greater persistence and heavier payloads, the Pentagon is coming to grips with the consequence: a torrent of motion imagery that must be analyzed and archived to be of use.

The Pentagon's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) task force has the LEMV on the fast track, with a single demonstrator vehicle to be fielded to Afghanistan within 18 months of contract award. Congress has fully funded the Fiscal 2010 budget request of $90 million for the program.

U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command (SMDC) is to lead the airship program, contracting with an industry consortium now taking final shape.

The consortium is expected to be established by early October, with a request for proposal to follow in November, leading to contract award by the end of December. The airship would fly within 15 months and deploy by mid-2011.

Exactly how the government will interact with the consortium is not yet clear. There are several potential platform providers involved, including Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works and the U.K.'s Hybrid Air Vehicles, both of which are expected to brief SMDC on their proposals in October.

The LEMV is required to stay aloft at 20,000 ft. for 21 days carrying a 2,500-lb. payload, a combination of either a multi-camera wide-area airborne surveillance (WAAS) sensor or a ground moving-target indication (GMTI) radar plus a signals-intelligence system and multiple electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors.

Lockheed Martin's design is a 250-ft.-long hybrid airship, which derives 80% of its lift from helium buoyancy and the rest from aerodynamics so it can be launched and recovered without the traditional airship ground infrastructure. The vehicle will be optionally piloted: manned for self-deployment and unmanned for surveillance missions.

Read the rest of this story, check out where the tanker tango stands, see Iraqi helo grads and ponder the German election from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on

-- Christian


"3) Hurry! When the Nazis have fled from the country, all the fun is over."

This from the guy who is convinced that not only is everyone in america who is intelligent is as obsessed about having a "pure" bloodline as he is.
But also throws out racial nick names such as tucan.

Wow realy fart come on. So as you said before you represesnt europe.

This must mean europeans are racist, bigoted, douche bags, childish, and all around annoying people who for some reasons remind me of the most oblivious people in history.

I mean seriously your not a racist but your convinced anyone who has a skin color that isnt pink or white (dont include asians in this there in on it to) is out to get us silly americans.

I dont even want to know your veiws on hitler the third riche or blacks.

Posted by: Valcan at September 30, 2009 05:09 PM

I believe the Russians or some other country will be happy to sell the Taliban any weapon they need to shoot down any blimps we put up. I also belelieve a USA movers and shakers that makes blimps has sold our sucker politicians/leaders a bill of lousy goods that we get to pay for that will not get the job done.

Posted by: Bobch47 at September 30, 2009 02:23 PM

I believe the Russians or some other country will be happy to sell the Taliban any weapon they need to shoot down any blimps we put up. I also belelieve a USA movers and shakers that makes blimps has sold our sucker politicians/leaders a bill of lousy goods that we get to pay for that will not get the job done.

Posted by: Bobch47 at September 30, 2009 02:22 PM

>This is a floating waste of money.

I often prefer disinformation from paranoids like you, but I will give you a very very special tip only for this time.

1)You have no idea of the advantages of unmanned blimps
2)You have no idea about cost per flight
3)You have no idea this can sit in the air while others have to loiter
4)You have no idea about the cost versus satellites
5)You have no idea about the maintenance cost advantages
6)You have no idea this is the next most long flying aerial platform after satellites


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Posted by: djfeio at September 30, 2009 11:13 AM

How to defeat this system (instructions for minors, age 7+ ) :

1) Please wait until the U.S. Americans have paid for its development, mass-production and deployment.

2) Then make your I.E.D.s look like rocks (cover them with lots of clay or chalk and dirt), walk or drive at the roadside and drop them discretely out of your bag or out of the truck window.

3) Hurry! When the Nazis have fled from the country, all the fun is over.

Next "sophisticated surveillance system", please!

Posted by: freefallingbomb at September 30, 2009 09:23 AM

As an old bag CAC I would not relish being that big a target for any s/a ordinance. It's a no win situation. Topside maintenance to patch the holes from ground fire would be almost impossible. I think it would be a kick for the rag heads since the target only travels about 5o mph.

Posted by: at September 30, 2009 08:11 AM

This just in, out of jealousy of Lockheed, Boeing is going to release a new Bi-Plane. If this is successful, they plan on also developing a tri-plane with a cool retro look that can shoot its GAU-8 avenger synchronously through its main propeller.

Seriously though, if the blimp works, go for it. It just seems that we would be using a satellite or something space based to do this by now instead of bringing back technology that was a huge target for the enemy.

Posted by: Cannon Fodder at September 30, 2009 08:11 AM

NSA has been using skyship 600 for decades, carrying its Littoral Airborne Hyper Spectograph (infrared/zoom camers, GMTI, etc.) - think it was part of the Star Wars program. The 600s were being used for surveliennce inside the US to track RFID chips (now in mostly all consumer goods. Analog tech for the digital world.

Posted by: WarPony at September 30, 2009 08:08 AM

They are apparently using these as a defense against enemy UAVs. Here's a picture I found on another mil site:;=16498

Posted by: Anton at September 29, 2009 09:09 PM

Campbell,how is the work going with the turtle airship?

Posted by: elgatoso at September 29, 2009 06:16 PM

Like Valcan said ,we need some airtruck like Skyhook from Skyhook International.

Posted by: elgatoso at September 29, 2009 06:14 PM

@JN: your comment points out the constantly sidestepped fact that this aircraft type is "a hybrid, slightly heavier than air".
It's that word "slightly" that is the killer. Anyone who supposes that this will be able to bear up under even light surface winds; has not found themselves on the end of a line trying to hold an airship down. I have. In a breeze of a mere 7mph. That huge sail area of the hull is bound to cause trouble. Avoiding this truth does not make it conveniently disappear, (as much as proponents of the so called "hybrids" would like it so). Use of a hovercraft landing system adds needless complexity,cost,control issues...and denies the dangers of FOB damage.
(disclosure: Airships are my business, for 29 years. I know whereof I speak. I applaud progress in lighter-than-air development; I deplore the continued, archaic designs. I support the militarys' adaption of airships, from any source, provided that the airships are designed, constructed, and operated properly.)

Posted by: campbell at September 29, 2009 03:33 PM

Eventually Lockheed's new electric Predator will be the weapon of choice. You can't see it - and now you won't be able to hear it coming either.

EEstor's new supercapacitors make it possible.

Posted by: Matt at September 29, 2009 12:28 PM


"The LEMV is required to stay aloft at 20,000 ft. for 21 days carrying a 2,500-lb. payload,"

Why you read the article first.


The idea of using them for transporting large amounts of cargo and by large i mean like ship size amounts has already been discused.

The problem is the weight the power supply and such and how to protect it.

Posted by: Valcan at September 29, 2009 11:47 AM

This is a floating waste of money. The global hawk is pretty useless already flying at such a high altitude, what would this thing fly at 100,000 feet? For the cost of development there could be 500 reapers made, a system that works better being closer to the ground and we already know the cost; cheap. Communications satellites? Cheap. Just build more of them.

Posted by: Jeff M at September 29, 2009 11:28 AM

By being a hybrid, slightly heavier than air the design is able to better deal with cross winds at landing. Additionally the Lockheed design utilizes large suction fans (like a reverse hovercraft) to improve ground handling.

Posted by: JN at September 29, 2009 10:48 AM

In Iraq the Airforce deployed quite a few weather balloons. The locals did not know what a weather balloon was. They were always nervous when one was overhead. One day, one of the locals asked "does the ship in the sky shoot people?" He went on to ask if it shot lasers at our enemies. We affirmed that "yes" it did kill bad guys and could SEE ALL. Violence was virtually nonexistent wherever that balloon hovered - they were so afraid of the thing.

That is my random story of the day.

Posted by: Soda Jones at September 29, 2009 10:01 AM

Still in "blimp" mode. Sad.

Lighter-than-Air has enormous potential; but, only when designers abandon the idea that an airship must inevitably be something like this, or past blimp/dirigible designs; which are no more than glorified elongated balloons.

It will be fun to see how this fares in cross-winds landings/takeoff, ground handling....

Posted by: campbell at September 29, 2009 09:38 AM

why dont they use these things for unblinking supply chain. no more overland truck convoys being driven by third country nationals in afghanistan getting hijacked anymore. i am kinda tired of seeing our uniforms and stuff on the internet being hockede by the bad guys in the bazaars.

Posted by: gruntdoc91 at September 29, 2009 08:59 AM

Someone told me the back of it looks like the but of Hillary. Now every time I see this Skunk Works blimp, I get a flashback of the nasty but of Hillary. I better sue that guy :-D

Posted by: pedestrian at September 29, 2009 08:46 AM

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