Airship Project Takes Off

DARPA announced Monday that it has selected a Lockheed Martin-led industry team that includes Raytheon to develop a sub-scale stratospheric airship to demonstrate the utility of using high-altitude airborne sensors of unprecedented proportions for theater-wide surveillance. Manufacture and flight testing of this demonstrator airship is occurring under phase 3 of the agency’s ISIS (integrated sensor is structure) program. DARPA is conducting phase 3 jointly with the Air Force. In fact, Air Force Chief Scientist Werner Dahm last month outlined the forthcoming demonstration. DARPA said the subscale airship is expected to fly in Fiscal 2013. It will carry an X-band radar system with an antenna about half the size of a roadside billboard and a UHF-band system with an antenna roughly equivalent to the size of a soccer field. A notional, full-size operational airship would have sensors dwarfing these that would be capable of tracking extremely small cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as dismounted soldiers from hundreds of kilometers away, while the host airship remained perched six miles above the Earth’s surface for years, said DARPA. ISIS phase 1 consisted of a feasibility study; phase 2 served to mature critical technology.