TAIPEI - Chinese academic, commercial and military institutions are aggressively studying the use of lighter-than-air (LTA) platforms for a variety of missions, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, special operations, transpor-tation over rugged terrain and as communications relays.
A recent unclassified report issued by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), "Current and Potential Applications of Chinese Aerostats (Airships)," addresses these issues.
Issued March 23 by NASIC's Open Source Intelligence Analysis and Production Flight, the paper is the first known unclassified report on China's military LTA research.
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) is looking at the development of airships and aerostats for a variety of military missions, said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center. The PLA already uses aerostats for ground force exercises.
"The implication is that the PLA has radar that could perform ground mapping as well as air-search missions," he said.
Though efforts have so far involved small platforms, the PLA is funding development of larger aerostats and airships able to operate at strategic altitudes of 10,000 meters or higher, which would allow surveillance of Taiwan from China, he said.
"For the PLA, having a networked formation of large airships over the East China Sea or South China Sea could offer the potential of an inner-space satellite system that could operate for a week at a time, conducting a range of surveillance, navigation assistance and communication relay missions, especially useful should an adversary attack China's outer-space satellites," he said.
The NASIC report concurs. China is considering the use of "super-altitude airships" for early warning detection to supplement existing early warning networks. Normally an altitude of 15 kilometers and higher is considered "super altitude," the report said.
"More Chinese scientists and researchers have become engaged in airship research, especially in the area of military applications," the NASIC report said.
"Because of its vertical takeoff and landing, and fixed-point air stationary capabilities, load capacity, low noise and low energy consumption, it is cost-effective and is very valuable for reconnaissance and surveillance, emergency communications," the report said.
Defense News found more than 30 Chinese academic, corporate and military institutions and facilities on the Internet conducting research on LTAs, including the Aircraft Flight Test Technology Institute, Air Force Engineering University, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity, Beijing University, Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity, Donghua University, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National University of Defense Technology, Unit 94362 and Unit 94201 of the PLA in Shandong, and Wuhan Huazhong University of Science and Technology.
Chinese companies producing airships and aerostats are openly promoting them as surveillance and special operations platforms on company brochures and on their websites.
The Suzhou Fangzhou Aeromodeling Co. produces an "investigative security surveillance airship" for use by the police or the military. The Hua Jiao Airship Co. makes the HJ-3000 airship that it advertises as a surveillance, minesweeper and special operations platform.
"Equipped with special facilities, it can carry special military forces to fight against terrorists, riots, forest fires and hostage rescue," the company Web site said.
The Beijing Buaa Lonsan Aircraft Co. produces the LS-S900 airship for use as a surveillance platform. It can be equipped with a camera, infrared thermal imaging unit, radar and a signal relay.
The Aerospace Life-Support Industries Co, produces the FKY-1, which can handle small missions of up to four personnel and carry a variety of sensor payloads.
Not to be confused with the FKY-1, the Chinese Academy of Surveying and China Special Vehicle Research Institute developed the FKC-1 helium unmanned airship with a "practical ceiling" of 1,000-plus meters and capable of surveillance missions by the military or police, in particular for "counter-separatist" campaigns, Fisher said.
"A poster at the 2008 Zhuhai Air Show illustrated this airship conducting battlefield surveillance as part of a network of unmanned aircraft and unmanned helicopters," he said. The company has released Internet imagery of the FKC-2, roughly 30 percent larger, but without any performance data listed.
The NASIC report notes there are increased calls in China calls for greater research and development of LTAs in the future.
"The Chinese will have an important opportunity for their airships to be on par with international standards in 2010 or 2020." ■
NEW DELHI - India, which bought three radar-equipped aerostats from Rafael in 2005, has thrown open the competition for a new batch of three to the global market.
Last month, Indian Air Force officials asked the Defence Ministry to prepare a request for information, which is to be issued in the next two to three months to BAE Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Rosoboronexport and Thales, ministry sources said. The aerostats must be able to carry a payload of 2,400 kilograms to 15,000 feet for 28 days at a stretch, including radars that can spot aircraft and missiles up to 30,000 feet and out to 300 kilometers.
The Air Force intends to integrate the aerostat radars with the three Airborne Warning and Control System AWACS being purchased from Israel.
The balloon-borne radars can virtually act as AWACS themselves, an Air Force official said.
India has deployed its three aerostats along the Pakistani border in the state of Punjab.
The country eventually seeks to own 13, the Air Force official, said.
The payload would consist of air and surface surveillance radars, electronic intelligence and communication intelligence gear, and V/UHF radio telephony equipment and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system.
The Navy also wants to buy aerostats for coastal security.
The new batch will be bought at a competitive price, said analyst Mahindra Singh.
U.S. Army Awards Lockheed Martin $142 Million for Additional Persistent Threat Detection Aerostat Systems
14:21 GMT, June 8, 2010 AKRON, Ohio | Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] received a $142 million award from the U.S. Army to begin production of additional Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS) to support coalition forces.
The Department of Defense is making a concerted effort to rapidly increase the resources available to help warfighters detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs). PTDS is a tethered aerostat-based system, capable of staying aloft for weeks at a time, that provides round-the-clock surveillance of broad areas. The Army began using the system in 2004.
“The PTDS delivers real-time surveillance and actionable intelligence to our troops to help them in life-threatening situations,” said Stephanie Hill, Integrated Defense Technologies vice president at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems & Sensors. "These eyes in the sky protect soldiers and civilians and let the hostiles know that they are constantly being watched.”
The PTDS is equipped with multi-mission sensors to provide long endurance intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications in support of the United States military and its allies.
The Army's firm-fixed-price undefinitized contract action enables Lockheed Martin to begin work on the systems while final contract terms are negotiated. The latest systems are in addition to the previous ones the Army ordered from Lockheed Martin in the past six months. The majority of the work on the systems will be performed in Akron, OH, with additional work in Cape Canaveral, FL, Moorestown, NJ and Owego, NY.
Filled with helium, PTDS provides low-cost, continuous communications and persistent surveillance capabilities not possible with other types of manned and unmanned aircraft. Attached by a high-strength tether to a re-locatable mooring system, PTDS carries different types of surveillance equipment to conduct multiple missions.
Blimps could replace aircraft in freight transport, say scientists
Helium-powered ships could be carrying freight – and even passengers – in as little as a decade's time
Juliette Jowit guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 30 June 2010 15.53 BST
An example of the future of airship freight carrier by German company CargoLifter. Blimps could replace aircraft in a decade. Photograph: cargolifter.com
Fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and other foreign luxuries could be part of a global revolution by carrying cargo around the world in airships instead of planes, one of the UK's leading scientists has predicted.
The government's former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King, now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, told a conference that massive helium balloons – or blimps – would replace aircraft as a key part of the global trade network as a way of cutting global warming emissions.
Despite languishing in sci-fi B-movies for most of the last 70 years, King said several major air and defence companies, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin, were working on designs, and the US defence department had recently made a large grant to help develop the technology.
As a result, the helium-powered ships could be carrying freight – and even passengers – in as little as a decade's time, King told the Guardian.
"There are an awful lot of people we talk to who say this is going to happen," said King. "This is something I believe is going to happen."
King was speaking this week at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, which has made transport a major focus of debate about global efforts to cut the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, which are a major contributor to global warming and climate change. In Europe 22% of greenhouse gases are from transport, compared with 28 from heat and electricity, 21% from industry and construction and 9% each from agriculture and homes, according to the European Environment Agency.
Emerging support for blimps is one of the more colourful developments in a more general trend towards looking beyond the most obvious solutions for reducing pollution as major economies such as the UK struggle to meet pledges to de-carbonise their economies over the next few decades.
Airships would be too slow for some high-speed airfreight, and would not be needed to carry the majority of cargo for which much slower ships are suitable. But with a speed of 125kph (78mph), and much lower fuel costs, plus a carrying capacity potentially many times that of a standard Boeing 747 plane, blimps could in future carry much of current air freight.
A recent report on mobility by the Smith School, for example, quoted an estimate by one developer, UK-owned SkyCat, that it could carry twice the weight of strawberries from Spain to the UK of a standard cargo plane, with a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, much of which is from avoiding the huge fuel burn a jet engine uses to take off.
Other benefits included the possibility that airships would not need to use airports if they were fitted with "lifts" to pick up and land cargo. This in turn would reduce the need for trucking goods to and from transport hubs, and allow less well-connected areas, perhaps in inland Africa, to take part in international trade, said King. For the same reasons the blimps could also be used to reach devastated areas in need of humanitarian aid, he said.
The essential idea of airships – that they are buoyed by being lighter than air – can be traced back to the use of air lanterns in the third century BC. The technology began to come of age when the Frenchmen Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes made the first flight in a balloon in 1783. By the 1920s airships were making regular trips across the Atlantic, and in 1929 a graf zeppelin circumnavigated the planet in just over 21 days.
The craze for blimps came to an abrupt halt after the death of many people when the Hindenburg caught fire in New Jersey, US. However research and development "languished but never halted", said the Smith School report.
Northrop Says Airship Offers Long-term, Continuous ISR for $50 an Hour
By WILLIAM MATTHEWS
Published: 11 July 2010
What is it about airships? The U.S. Army is the latest to join a decades-long - but so far elusive - effort to revive technology that flourished then floundered 70 years ago.
The Army is paying Northrop Grumman $517 million to build three giant airships that would hover more than 3.8 miles above battlefields for three weeks at a time, their cameras and radars continuously collecting intelligence.
It's a fast-paced program. The first of these Army Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicles (LEMVs) is to begin operating in Afghanistan in 18 months.
At 302 feet long and 84 feet tall, the LEMVs are being designed to operate unmanned, controlled from a station on the ground. They're to be equipped with newly developed VADER radars for tracking vehicles and troops on the ground, infrared and optical video cameras, and antennas and receivers for intercepting radio signals.
As described by the Army, the LEMV is to be "an autonomous, long-endurance platform" that enables "continuous over-the-horizon communications, wide-area surveillance," target reconnaissance, intelligence gathering and other missions.
The Army is depending on the airship's "unique performance characteristics" to make long-term continuous surveillance affordable. Today, it's too expensive because it must be done by manned and unmanned aircraft and satellites.
The airship will cost $25,000 or less to operate for a month, said Alan Metzger, LEMV program director for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. That works out to about $50 an hour.
Other reconnaissance aircraft cost much more. According to some estimates, a Predator UAV costs about $5,000 an hour to operate; a Global Hawk, about $25,000.
The LEMV will look like two blimps that have been squeezed together to make one especially wide one with merged envelopes.
But it's not a blimp - it's a hybrid airship, Metzger said.
A blimp is a nonrigid airship - that is, it has no internal framework - filled with helium that makes it lighter than air, thus it flies. It uses engines to maneuver while airborne.
The LEMV will be a nonrigid airship filled with helium, but it will not be lighter than air. Rather, it will derive about 40 percent of its lift from its aerodynamic shape and the forward momentum from its four vectored-thrust ducted propellers. It will have to keep moving to get aloft and stay there.
Despite its large size, the LEMV can be launched and recovered from just about anywhere, Metzger said. A small airport or even an open field will do.
"It can take off and land within a quarter of a mile," he said. And if there's a decent breeze, it can take off virtually straight up.
It can land in much the same way and be moored to a mast until it is sent aloft again, he said.
Not everyone is convinced that the Army is on the right track with the LEMV.
Brandon Buerge, an aerodynamicist and consultant to airship companies, said a hybrid airship like the one the Army wants can't meet the service's requirement to stay aloft for 21 days. It will run out of fuel long before that, he said.
The Army's requirements state that:
■ The LEMV must be able to carry up to 2,500 pounds of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) equipment and communications gear. A generator will produce 16 kilowatts of electricity to power the equipment.
■ The airship must be able to cruise at 20 knots at 20,000 feet and dash at up to 80 knots.
■ A "rapid deflation device termination system" is required so that the airship can be forced down in the event flight controls are lost, and "for protecting the possession of sensitive payloads."
■ ISR gear must be equipped with "interfaces to allow destruction to prevent enemy capture."
The first of the three LEMVs is scheduled to be inflated next May, just 11 months from the mid-June contract award, Metzger said. The first flight will be two months later, and five months after that - December 2011 - it's off to Afghanistan.
The aggressive schedule is possible because the airship relies mainly on proven technology, Metzger said. Diesel engines will power the propellers and the generator. The fabric that will make up the airship's envelope "is very mature, it's been built before," Metzger said.
"To get it done in 18 months, it needs to be a low-risk solution," he said. From a technology perspective, the airship "is very conventional."
Buerge is skeptical. It would take an airship two or three times larger than Northrop's LEMV to lift the amount of fuel needed to stay aloft for three weeks, he said. The problem is that during the early phase of its flight, when the airship is full of fuel and at its heaviest, it has to burn a lot of fuel to generate the aerodynamic lift it needs to fly.
But building a much bigger airship causes other problems, Buerge said: Weight would increase substantially, it would require fabrics that are tougher than any now in use and it would require bigger engines, which would add still more weight.
"I sincerely hope that they succeed," Buerge said. A successful LEMV could give the entire airship business a boost, "but when I get out my calculator, it's hard to see how it will work."
Metzger insists that Northrop's LEMV is "very low-risk."
Northrop has contracted with Hybrid Air Vehicles, a British firm, to design the airship. Fabric will be supplied by Warwick Mills, a New Hampshire company; and ILC Dover, a Delaware maker of blimps, spacesuits and inflatables, will build the envelope at a former Navy blimp base in Oregon.
Although the Army's focus is on the airship's potential for protracted ISR missions, there are a number of other possible uses, from patrolling U.S. borders and hunting drug smugglers to performing aerial assessments and providing emergency communications after disasters.
The LEMV can be operated as a manned airship and stay aloft for four or five days, Metzger said.
A heavy-lifting version of the LEMV could haul disaster relief supplies and other cargo and land it in places that lack airports, such as Haiti after the January earthquake, Metzger said.
For decades, airships have maintained a firm grip on the U.S. military's imagination - but not a place in the inventory.
In the 1980s, the Navy considered buying squadrons of them to serve as lookouts to protect ships against cruise missiles. Ultimately, that idea didn't fly.
More recently, in 2003 the Missile Defense Agency began developing 500-foot-long High Altitude Airships that were intended to hover over the U.S. for a year at a time to warn of missile attacks. The program was canceled in 2008.
Meanwhile, in 2005 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) set about building the Walrus, a giant airship that would be able to transport 1,000 tons of equipment or an entire Army brigade "from the fort to the fight." The Walrus expired in 2006.
Undeterred, DARPA launched the ISIS program in 2009. This time the research agency wants to build a 1,000-foot helium-filled behemoth that would hover 12 miles above a battlefield, possibly for years, staring down at enemy troops, vehicles and aircraft and keeping track of friendly forces. The ISIS airship could take flight around 2018.
Airships remain popular - in concept, at least - because they promise very long-term loitering capability at a very low price, said aviation consultant Hans Weber.
"The requirement for an unblinking view is the real driving factor, and only airships can do that," he said.
Except that so far, they can't. In case after case, for various reasons, the cost-benefit ratio just hasn't worked out in favor of airships, Weber said.
AUVSI: Northrop Grumman reveals LEMV airship is convertible
By Stephen Trimble
Northrop Grumman says a newly launched hybrid airship will be able to lift as much cargo as a Lockheed Martin C-130E Hercules.
The US Army awarded a contract less than 50 days ago for the Northrop/Hybrid Air Vehicles team to demonstrate the long-endurance, multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform.
But Northrop chief engineer Michael Addison says the same aircraft can lift a 15,875kg (35,000lb) payload by removing the ISR payload and making other modifications.
"By using the same hull and changing some of the configuration of the solid structure underneath, we can also provide a substantial heavy-lift capability," Addison says. "It will be a modification done without changing the basic hull, so that's exciting."
Addison's lone briefing chart for his presentation said the "heavy/mission lift configuration" can haul a 15,875kg load over a 1,852-2,778km (1,000-1,500nm) distance.
By comparison, a US Air Force fact sheet lists the C-130E as capable of delivering the same weight of cargo over a 2,315km distance.
The LEMV program, however, is aimed at proving a hybrid airship can be effective at the ISR mission, perching over a target at 20,000ft for a period of 21 days. The airship is designed to carry a 1,133kg payload for three weeks.
The ISR payload includes a ground moving target indicator radar, full motion video, communications relay and communications intercept.
Northrop is scheduled to complete a preliminary design review within two weeks, Addison says. First flight remains on track for the end of the 2011 with inflation scheduled in the late second quarter next year.
Lockheed Martin still pursues hybrid airship future
By Stephen Trimble
Losing a half-billion dollar contract award will not discourage Lockheed Martin from continuing to pursue hybrid airships as a future business.
The company's advanced development programmes (ADP) division instead has released a new marketing campaign, with a promotional video posted on YouTube on 24 August revealing new details about the company's technology.
Lockheed systems engineer Bob Ruszkowski confirms the company "absolutely" sees opportunities for new business, despite losing a competition for a $517 million contract from the US Army in June.
A Northrop Grumman/Hybrid Air Vehicles team instead won the deal to build the long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), for deployment to Afghanistan in early 2012.
"We are exploring opportunities for hybrid airships beyond LEMV," Ruszkowski says.
Lockheed lost the contract despite investing significantly in hybrid airship technology. The ADP, or Skunk Works, division manufactured a demonstrator aircraft called the P791, which first flew in January 2006.
"The P791 demonstration aircraft still exists. It's still in our hangar. It's available to use again for other demonstrations," Ruszkowski says. "We learned quite a bit from it, and we're exploring other opportunities for hybrid airships."
In the new video, P791 programme manager Bob Boyd and other programme officials describe details of the hybrid airship technology.
The P791 is described as guided by a two-axis thrust vectoring system that is steered by fly-by-wire flight controls. The tri-hull airship is built using a "high-strength, lightweight woven material that's heat-sealed together", Lockheed says.
Lockheed's hybrid airship also incorporates an air cushion landing system with four pads, which both soften landings and "grab" the ground so no mooring equipment is required.
The company plans to offer a hybrid airship as both a surveillance and cargo aircraft. In the latter configuration, new versions of the technology scaled up to seven times its current size could haul as many as 300 freight containers at a time, Lockheed says.
The video also offers hints that Lockheed sees an opportunity with hybrid airships to break into the commercial aircraft market for the first time since the early 1990s. Its future airships will be designed to offer availability rates on a par with commercial aircraft, of between 95 and 99%, the company says.
Northrop Grumman's LEMV program completes three major milestones
November 04, 2010
In just four months since signing a $517 million agreement with the United States Army to build three airships with 21-day persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability, Northrop Grumman's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program team has completed three important program milestones. The team is headed toward its fourth, the Critical Design Review (CDR), by the end of first quarter FY11.
"In less than four months time, we have completed our System Readiness Review (SRR), Initial Baseline Review (IBR) and our Preliminary Design Review (PDR) which looks at the hybrid air vehicle design, ground station infrastructure, and ground and airborne system software," said Alan Metzger, Northrop Grumman vice president and integrated program team leader of LEMV and airship programs.
The June 14, 2010, agreement provides for the design, development and testing of the first long endurance airship within an 18-month time period. "We have made great progress to date and have a great partnership with the Army. As we move forward, we look to inflate our first vehicle next spring, and our first flight is scheduled for mid-next summer," Metzger said. "Upon completion of the development ground and flight testing phase, we expect to transition to a government facility and conduct our final acceptance test in December 2011. It's a very aggressive, almost unprecedented schedule from concept-to-combat with a first of its kind system."
In early 2012, LEMV will be transported for demonstration in an operational environment. The program then transitions from the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USA SMDC) control to the project manager for the Army's unmanned aircraft systems.
Northrop Grumman has designed a system with plug-and-play capability to provide warfighters with a system that can rapidly accommodate next generation sensors as emerging field requirements dictate. "Our solution readily integrates into the Army's existing Universal Ground Control Station (UGCS) and Deployable Common Ground System (DCGS) command centers and ground troops in forward operating bases-the main objective is to provide US warfighters with persistent ISR capability to increase awareness of the ever changing battlefield.
"LEMV is longer than a football field, taller than a seven-story building and will remain airborne for more than three weeks at a time, delivering a high level of fuel efficiency. Fuel costs are minimal at $11,000 for a 21-day period of service. It's very green," Metzger added.
Northrop Grumman has teamed with Hybrid Air Vehicles, Ltd. of the United Kingdom using its HAV304 platform, Warwick Mills, ILC Dover, AAI Corporation, SAIC and a team of technology leaders from 18 US states and three countries to build LEMV. Northrop Grumman will provide system integration expertise and flight and ground control operations to safely take off and land the unmanned vehicle for worldwide operations.
Northrop Grumman’s ginormous experimental spying blimp is progressing rapidly, the company wants you to know. In barely a year, Northrop predicts, it’ll be ready to test in an “operational environment.”
The Army awarded Northrop a $517 million contract in June to develop a trio of unmanned, seven-story, football-field sized mega-blimps called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicles. If successful, the blimp will stay in the air for up to three weeks at a time, using 2500 pounds’ worth of “sensors, antennas, data links and signals intelligence equipment” to capture still and video images of civilians and adversaries below and send the pictures to troops’ bases. It should work with the Army’s standard drone-controlling system, called the Universal Ground Control Station. And it’s a hybrid, lifted into the air by helium and propelled by four diesel engines.
In Afghanistan, the Army’s Warrior drones provide what intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance experts call “persistent” views — that is, they hover above a given area for long periods of time taking pictures — but the drone can’t stay aloft for anything close to three weeks. One Army official involved with the project judged that it would take 12 advanced Reaper drones to replicate the blimp’s functions.
According to a Northrop statement, the blimp passed three initial tests that judge the feasibility of its design, its ability to talk to a ground station and the success of its software. The company says it’ll inflate the first blimp in the spring and fly it in the summer; all tests are supposed to finish by the end of 2012.
The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle isn’t the only supersized spy blimp in the works. Last year, the Navy announced it wanted blimps that could see across the light spectrum and use laser radar to identify potential targets. C4ISR Journal reported in August that the Air Force has teamed up with the Pentagon’s bomb-stopping task force, known as JIEDDO, to create another mega-blimp specifically to hunt down improvised explosive devices. And Lockheed Martin won a $400 million contract with Darpa last year to build a 15-story blimp (!) called the Integrated Sensor Is Structure, a robo-blimp that can “track the most advanced cruise missiles at 600 km and dismounted enemy combatants at 300 km.” None of these blimps are in the air yet, but somehow the sky feels crowded already.