U.S. Army Cancels LEMV Surveillance Airship

 - February 22, 2013, 1:35 PM
The Northrop Grumman LEMV made its first and only flight last August at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Army cancelled development of the Northrop Grumman long-endurance, multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), a huge, optionally manned hybrid airship that the service planned to deploy to Afghanistan as an urgent requirement for persistent surveillance. The airship was overweight and behind schedule; it made its first and only announced flight last August, about 10 months late.

In a brief statement, the sponsoring Army Space and Missile Defense Command said the airship “was initially designed to support operational needs in Afghanistan in spring 2012; it will not provide a capability in the time frame required. Due to technical and performance challenges, and the limitations imposed by constrained resources, the Army has determined to discontinue the LEMV development effort.” Northrop Grumman referred questions about the cancellation to the Army.

The LEMV made its first flight at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst near Trenton, N.J., on August 7. It flew for 90 minutes. Its cancellation follows the termination by the Air Force last June of the Blue Devil 2 airship developed by Mav6, which was also destined to serve in Afghanistan as an urgent requirement.

Northrop Grumman announced a contract award potentially worth $517 million from the Army in June 2010 to develop up to three LEMV systems. Specifications called for the airship to remain aloft for three weeks at a time, providing ground troops with a continuous stream of imagery and signals intelligence (Sigint) from multiple sensors. Northrop Grumman was to integrate electro-optical/infrared, Sigint, radar and communications relay payloads on a 304-foot-long hybrid airship designed by Hybrid Air Vehicles of Cranfield, UK. Other suppliers included Warwick Mills for fabric development; ILC Dover for hull fabrication; and SAIC for full-motion video processing. Textron AAI supplied the ground control station.

In a report on U.S. military airship investments last October, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the LEMV development was 10 months behind schedule “due to issues with fabric production, getting foreign parts cleared through customs, adverse weather conditions causing the evacuation of work crews, and first-time integration and testing issues.” The airship was also 12,000 pounds overweight, reducing its estimated on-station endurance at 20,000 feet from the required 21 days to “four or five days.” The agency said the program was funded with $276 million through Fiscal Year 2012.

Comments

Leslie Rothwell's picture

its a real shame a bridge too far trying to make whole new concept, in a impossible time frame without a working model, of course the manufactures of the lemv had high hopes but the only man that could have made that happen was Roger Monk the real driver behind hybrid air vehicles who died before achieving his dream of a working model so many soldiers lives could have been saved but he left ordinary people behind Leslie Rothwell

topgearz's picture

I find it unusual that in this day and age of computing power, the amount of qualified, experienced engineers. That this was the best they could do? So over weight that it's on-scene time is reduced to what, existing drone time. The need put out was for a vehicle that was not 'gee-wiz' tech but something that should have been done ON-TIME and UNDER budget. The products put out years ago, the X-15, U-2 and blackbird were designed,built with, at the time was thought impossible to do and with pencils, slide rules and drafting boards, Avionics, with this project, have been, in one form or another, around for some time. Fabric weights??? Ask someone who has refurbished a J-3 Piper wing. Properties different, but the same thought process. Overseas sourced parts??? No one thought of this BEFORE the contract was put out. It's things like this that must have more than just me rolling their eyes and scratching their heads.

Smarts's picture

Could not agree more topgearz, what is more of a complete mystery is the company behind this, (HAV) has a long history in building non rigid airships as they like to point out on their website. How could they get the weight of the fins so wrong after all the Skyship series of blimps they built? Is this a classic case of bidding for a contract with a crazy timeframe and then failing to scrutinise the subcontractors to check on their abilities or progress until it was too late.

The really sad thing is that LTA yet again is now seen as a waist of taxpayers money and will make the future projects very difficult to finance.

Kirk Marshall Davis's picture

No doubt another large amount of taxpayer money just went bye bye. Can you here the flushing sound of tax dollars going down the toilet?

Show comments (4)