The United States has been developing what could become a new concept in destroying enemy ballistic missiles in their boost phase.
The concept calls for stationing a huge blimp out of enemy aircraft or missile range that would detect preparations for and launch of any enemy ballistic missile. The blimp would then relay the information to fighter jets that would shoot down the enemy launcher or missile.
The project has been sponsored by the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency. The agency has awarded Lockheed Martin a $40 million design and risk reduction contract to advance a project to develop and demonstrate a prototype of a high-altitude airship that could remain in the air for one month.
Lockheed Martin executives said the airship would be 500 feet long, 160 feet in diameter and have a volume of 5.2 million cubic feet. This would be about 25 times larger than the blimps seen at athletic events.
"We share the Missile Defense Agency's vision for the high altitude airship and the many roles it can serve over our domestic borders and distant theaters of operation," said Al Barber, vice president at Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors.
"Its long time on station and ability to carry different payloads will provide multi-mission capabilities not possible with other assets. When launched, the HAA will commence a new era in flight."
The project calls for the demonstration of the airship in 2006. The first phase of the project involves drafting a concept of an airship that can remain afloat for one month at an altitude of 65,000 feet. The facility would have a payload of two tons and provide 10 kilowatts of power.
Israel and the United States have been experimenting with BPI concepts since 1996. Israel had envisioned a network of unmanned air vehicles that could remain in the sky for several days at a time to monitor enemy ballistic missile activities.
But the Lockheed Martin project calls for one facility that would remain stationary. The airship would also have autonomous flight control capabilities.
In another development, two U.S. contractors have conveyed a proposal to the Pentagon to upgrade the E-8C aircraft into a system that would rapidly detect a missile launch as well as estimate its point of impact.
Northrop Grumman and Textron Systems drafted the proposal. Under the proposal, Textron would mount its Theater Airborne Warning System on the J-STARS [Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System] aircraft.