The rise of modern terrorism, sharply increasing costs to recruit and equip professional soldiers, and issues of energy security, are forcing 2 imperatives on modern armies. Modern militaries need to be able to watch wide areas for very long periods of time. Not just minutes, or even hours any more, but days if necessary. The second imperative, beyond the need for that persistent, unblinking stare up high in the air, is the need to field aerial platforms whose operating costs won’t bankrupt the budget.
These pressures are forcing an eventual convergence toward very long endurance, low operating cost platforms. Many are lighter-than-air vehicles or hybrid airships, whose technologies have advanced to make them safe and militarily useful again. On the ground near military bases, Raytheon’s RAID program fielded aerostats, and then surveillance towers. Lockheed Martin has also fielded tethered aerostats: TARS along the USA’s southern border, and PTDS aerostats on the front lines. The same trend can be observed in places like Thailand and in Israel; and Israeli experience has led to export orders in Mexico and India. At a higher technical level, Raytheon’s large JLENS aerostats are set to play a major role in American aerial awareness and cruise missile defense, and a huge ground and air scanning ISIS radar is under development under a DARPA project, to pair with Lockheed Martin’s fully mobile High Altitude Airship.
The Army’s Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) project fitted in between RAID and HAA/ISIS, in order to give that service mobile, affordable, very long term surveillance in uncontested airspace. Its technologies and flight data may eventually wind up playing a role in other projects. This would help the Army recoup some of its investment, as it sold its prototype back to its manufacturer in the fall of 2013, for the price of a luxury car.
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