Lockheed Wins $149.2M Contract for High Altitude Airship
DID has covered the growing US interest in blimps for everything from low-altitude surveillance and communications relay, to air mega-transport, to near space operations. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Akron, OH received a $149.2 million cost-reimbursable contract to build and demonstrate the technical feasibility and military utility of the High Altitude Airship (HAA). The Missile Defense Agency issued this contract (HQ0006-06-C-0001), and eventually plans to deploy approximately 10 blimps to provide overlapping coverage of U.S. coastal regions.
The HAA is envisioned as an unmanned, radar-carrying surveillance blimp that will float above the jet stream to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles, or even low-flying cruise missiles that may have slipped underneath ground-based radars. Once operational, it will be an important early-detection element of the broader U.S. missile defense architecture. It may also act as a weather surveyor and telecom relay. As Avionics Magazine’s April 2004 issue notes:
“In reality, the HAA is an aerial truck, a large bubble of helium intended to haul aloft a sophisticated surveillance, communications or even weapons payload. Sitting out of harm’s way in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, a sensor – typically commanding a 750-mile (1,207 km) diameter footprint – will “see” threats with higher resolution than is available from satellites in space. And they will use less power in the process… while the time lag that often mars communication via satellites will be much reduced.”
There are a number of challenges associated with an effort of this nature, and they are fully covered in DID’s FOCUS article “DARPA’s HAA/ISIS Project Seeks Slow, Soaring Surveillance Superiority.”