World Tribune.com -- U.S. Army weighs blimp fleet for Iraq
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is researching the prospect of deploying airships to Iraq, both for surveillance as well as for troop transport.
Officials said the army has been briefed on the use of airships equipped with sensors that could provide continuous surveillance over insurgency strongholds in Iraq. The airships would ensure real-time information on insurgency threats to army commands and ease the burden on the Army's unmanned aerial vehicle fleet..
"The capability of an airship would be much greater than that of a tactical UAV," an official said. "We could be provided with a comprehensive situational awareness picture before patrols and other missions."
The Defense Department has held a competition to provide a blimp for troop transport. The finalists were identified as Lockheed Martin and a tiny California firm, Worldwide Aeros.
Both companies have won a total of $3 million in awards to provide the Pentagon with preliminary design work for the air troop transport. Worldwide Aeros, with 40 employees, manufactures blimps for flying billboards.
In September 2006, the Pentagon would determine which one of the companies would win a $100 million contract. In the first stage of the project, the winner would build a 900-foot airship prototype. At a later stage, the U.S. military could order a fleet of the blimps in what could cost up to $11 billion.
Another company, Blackwater USA, has presented a concept for a 120-foot airship packed with infrared sensors, CCD cameras and meant to provide reconnaissance for up to four days at a time. Executives said the 120-foot airship would be ready by the end of 2006.
"If bad guys are setting up IEDs on the side of the road, we can see real-time what's going on," Blackwater USA vice president Chris Taylor said.