August 15, 2012
When you think about high-tech “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” (ISR) breakthroughs, does a gigantic $172 million blimp immediately come to mind? If not, then join the club. In fact my first thought when learning about the U.S. Army’s new blimp was Hindenburg.
It’s not fashionable to call this flying spy (hybrid military airship) a “blimp,” but a Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). You are no doubt familiar with the Goodyear blimp that hovers over football games, but the LEMV is almost the size of a seven-story flying football field; it’s meant to fly at speeds between 30 and 80 knots without ceasing for 21 straight days while providing an “unblinking” eye of surveillance.
Northrop Grumman has a $517 million contract to build three of these 21st-century robotic airships for the U.S. Army. The first of three had a successful 90-minute test flight last week from the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. This first test flight included two pilots, but the Army intends for the LEMV to be like the Predator, an unmanned flying surveillance machine. Both Northrop Grumman and the Army must like the term “unblinking,” as it was used several times to describe the “Revolutionary ISR Weapon System” aka the LEMV.