WALRUS Hunted to Extinction By Congress, DARPA?
DID has covered the WALRUS airship project before, and explained why DARPA believed the time might be right to build an airship that could lift 1-2 million pounds half-way around the world in a week. We’ve continued to follow the project here, including the US Congressional Budget Office’s favorable report on WALRUS vs. other long-range air and sea transport alternatives, and a look at the interesting crew at Aeros, Inc., who won one of the $3 million preliminary design R&D contracts. Now Noah Shachtman of DefenseTech reports:
“But it wasn’t meant to be. Darpa took away the fiscal year 2006 funding for the Walrus. And the agency’s 2007 budget request calls for “termination of the Walrus effort.” Now, the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command had its own plans for a heavy-hauling airship, too. I’m checking to see if they’re still interested. Keep your fingers crossed.”
Actually, as a DARPA source notes, Congress canceled the walrus effort by zeroing the program in the FY06 Appropriations. It’s interesting to counterpoise that decision with this recent information…
“Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley told Inside the Air Force earlier this month that he is interested in exploring whether the JCA [DID: smaller C-27J or C-295 aircraft] could one day be used as a C-130 “surrogate.” The four-star spoke to ITAF on Capitol Hill March 9 [DID: 2006].
If I had something like [a nimble JCA platform] in the Afghan campaign and the Iraqi campaign, I would have felt a whole lot better because you can get in and out of smaller places, you can get out of runways that measure just 2,500 feet,” Moseley said last fall at an event in Washington (ITAF, Oct. 14, 2005, p1).
A Jan. 27 Congressional Research Service report, citing Air University analysis, highlights some of the Hercules’ shortcomings. “It does not appear that the C-130 is best suited to deliver supplies and reinforcements to U.S. ground forces operating in remote areas. The C-130 requires approximately 5,000 feet of runway to operate,” states the report, crafted by CRS analyst Christopher Bolkcom.”
(InsideDefense.com, “New Airlifter Could Become C-130 Surrogate“)
…and this, from DID’s anchor article covering the WALRUS program:
“DARPA will select one contractor team to enter the second phase, which will be a demonstration effort spanning three years. During phase II, the program will refine the Walrus’ design needs, identify its potential military use through modeling and studies, develop breakthrough technologies, and conduct risk reduction demonstrations of components and subsystems.
DARPA also notes that demonstrations will include flight tests of a Walrus Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) scaled aircraft. This is a fancy way of saying that they plan to flight-test a “significant-scale” lifting airship in 2008 with a payload capability of around 30 tons, about 50% more than a Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules. These risk reduction demonstrations, including the ATD vehicle, are designed to establish a low-risk technology path for proving the Walrus concept and achieving the operating goals.”
…and DID’s recent coverage of a 2005 Army Corps of Engineers Study about energy costs/supplies and military operations, followed by an article about the pressure to lower fuel use at the Pentagon which included this:
… cascade of events from Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England’s September 2005 fuel conservation memo, to by a December 2005 directive asking all defense facilities to cut their energy consumption and increase the use of renewable energy sources. The goal is reduce energy consumption by 2% each year, while increasing renewable energy use to 7.5% of total demand by 2013 and 25% by 2025.”
From over here it looks like a successful WALRUS ATD built from R&D funding had the potential to make a large dent in a pair of significant military problems all by itself and create a project success – even if the full 500-ton version later proved too difficult to develop with current technology. DID cannot speak to the thinking in DARPA that led to this funding decision, but if any of our readers can enlighten us, we’re curious.