U.S. Army Cancels LEMV Surveillance Airship
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.