View Full Version : Task Force Puts U.S. Airship Program on Fast Track

08-21-2009, 02:42 PM
The U.S. Defense Department's ISR Task Force will huddle early next month with industry officials about forming a consortium to speed development of high-flying, long-duration unmanned airships to gather battlefield intelligence.

During talks slated for Sept. 2-3 in Arlington, Va., officials from the task force, the military service commands and U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) acquisition officials "will address their ISR requirements in general and describe their LEMV [Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle] requirements in detail," according to a meeting announcement issued by the National Defense Industrial Association, which is leading the consortium effort.
In addition, the defense officials will spell out their LEMV purchasing plans, according to NDIA.

At the meeting, NDIA representatives will "take the lead" on building a development consortium, composed of multiple companies that opt to participate, that will work on the project, said an industry source.

The announcement states the task force envisions the industry group "developing a family of prototype Long-Endurance Multi-INT Airships," as well as prototype models of necessary control stations, sensors, communications systems, and "exploitations and dissemination" tools.

The Defense Department will fund the consortium's development work using its Other Transaction Authority (OTA). That designation allows the department to make a specific platform such a priority that it must be developed outside of the Pentagon's traditional - and often cumbersome - weapon development and acquisition processes, the industry source said.

"OTA allows DoD to really put something on a fast track," the industry source said.

Still, if defense officials like what they see after testing the LEMV prototypes, the production versions of the airships would have to be acquired within the normal purchasing guidelines, the source said, unless the officials opt to buy them using special rapid acquisition methods developed since the onset of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The source said DoD and industry officials "are nowhere near being ready to make that decision."

The Pentagon for several years has experimented with the notion of developing and fielding an unmanned airship that could be fitted with sensors to gather various kinds of intelligence data. In recent years, SMDC has been at the forefront of developing such an aircraft under the LEMV program. Before that, the effort was run by the Missile Defense Agency.

The ISR Task Force has placed SMDC in charge of the new joint effort.

Several defense and industry sources declined to discuss details about the specific requirement the ISR Task Force is pursuing. But the group's push for a high-flying airship that can loiter over a large area for months at a time offers a window into its thinking.

With the influential task force, created last year by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, pushing the effort, industry sources expect the LEMV will begin sending airships to combat theaters sooner rather than later.

Such an airship, defense officials have said, might be able to monitor a region as vast as Iraq for as long as six months, addressing a need for the kind of persistent ISR about which Pentagon brass and deployed war fighters often talk.

Military and industry officials declined to comment on which companies they expect to join the consortium.

The industry source said that he expects the group's membership will come from "a real cross-section of industry - large companies, smaller ones - that have been working parts of this requirement for some time."


08-21-2009, 04:43 PM
future is coming fast.