And so ends the U.S. military’s dream of mega-blimps strapped with powerful surveillance gear. The Army confirms to Danger Room that it’s killed the last of those lighter-than-air ships, so says DangerRoom
“Say goodbye to the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle, or LEMV. Built by Northrop Grumman, it’s a
dimpled blimp as long as a football field; seven stories high; and carries a price tag of over half a billion dollars. The plan was to use the blimp over Afghanistan, where its gondola could haul seventons of cargo — including advanced camera gear able to see dozens of square miles of terrain with crystal-clear resolution at a single blink. It would stay 20,000 feet above the warzone for weeks at a time, something beyond the capabilities of any spy plane, manned or piloted. Trials over Afghanistan were slated for early this year.
“Not anymore. A report in InsideDefense citing anonymous sources said LEMV quietly met the Army budget axe last week. The Army confirmed it, on the record, to Danger Room late on Thursday.
“Due to technical and performance challenges, and the limitations imposed by constrained resources, the Army has determined to discontinue the LEMV development effort,” Army spokesman Dov Schwartz emails.
“That came as news to the branch of the Army actually testing the blimp. “The Department of the Army has not notified the Army Space and Missile Defense Command of any programmatic changes to the LEMV program,” spokesman John Cummings told Danger Room earlier Thursday. “LEMV continues to be a technology demonstration at SMDC.” Northrop Grumman was surprised by word of the cancellation; it has yet to comment.
The LEMV has been in trouble for awhile. A technical analysis in 2011 questioned whether the blimp could actually stay aloft for the 21 days Northrop hyped, and figured it was closer to 10. Although the ship was supposed to head to Afghanistan this year, its only flight has been its maiden August test voyage over New Jersey, which was months late. The Army, once a vocal LEMV booster, beganbacking away from the blimp in October.”