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Grumman Building Football Field-Sized Robotic Surveillance Blimp 150

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the evil-genius-for-a-better-tomorrow dept.
colinneagle writes with news of the latest in 1930s surveillance technology turned into a robot. From the article: "It's not fashionable to call this flying spy (hybrid military airship) a 'blimp,' but a Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). You are no doubt familiar with the Goodyear blimp that hovers over football games, but the LEMV is almost the size of a seven-story flying football field; it's meant to fly at speeds between 30 and 80 knots without ceasing for 21 straight days while providing an 'unblinking' eye of surveillance. Northrop Grumman has a $517 million contract to build three of these 21st-century robotic airships for the U.S. Army. The first of three had a successful 90-minute test flight last week from the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey. This first test flight included two pilots, but the Army intends for the LEMV to be like the Predator, an unmanned flying surveillance machine. Both Northrop Grumman and the Army must like the term 'unblinking,' as it was used several times to describe the 'Revolutionary ISR Weapon System' aka the LEMV."
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Grumman Building Football Field-Sized Robotic Surveillance Blimp

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  • by SlowGenius (231663) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:36AM (#40996045) Homepage
    Technology that will prepare us to fight the World War I of the 21st century!
    • by TWX (665546)
      Yeah, I can't see this thing surviving well in a warzone if the opponent knows that it's there. Even if it's got multiple compartmentalized bladders and some secondary lift mechanisms like a quadrotor setup, it's still going to be awfully vulnerable to something as simple as a long line of razor wire tied to a rocket fired in its direction...
      • by grnbrg (140964)
        It'll need to be some rocket to get to the mission altitude of 20,000 feet. And it's got enough range that it will most likely be launched from a friendly base.
        • by khallow (566160)
          Huh, that's pretty low. I thought they'd have it up to 60,000 feet or higher. Maybe that will happen to a future prototype. They do need to figure out other issues such as reliably launching something that massive in moderately poor weather.
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Painted the right color you would never see it. With stealth tech radar would have a hard time seeing it.

    • by Loughla (2531696) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:51AM (#40996217)

      Yeah, that was my first question when reading about this thing. How are we going to protect something THAT big? I see two targets for this type of surveillance:

      1. Use it only on military units who lack the ability to look up; or

      2. Civilians.

      As most humans have the same ability to tilt their heads backward, or, at the very least to move our eyes in a general upward direction, I believe that we can rule out the first option. So, why would our government need to watch civilians?

      On a personal note, this idea seems absolutely ridiculous based on the current age that we live in. I would have loved to see the guy who brought that up in the initial meeting.

      General: What's next for surveillance? Pee-on: Well, Sir, how about a blimp? *Cringes for the incoming backhand to the face* General: BRILLIANT!!! THEY'LL NEVER SEE IT COMING!!!

      • by Baloroth (2370816) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @10:26AM (#40996541)

        Or military units that lack long-range missiles. The things are designed to fly at ~20,000 feet (6km), which for reference is the exact maximum range of the longest-range Stinger missile, so you could shoot it if it was exactly overhead (it won't be, though, thats the point). And that is well above the range of non-missile ordinance as well. In other words, it's designed to be used in situations were the military is fighting relatively poorly equipped enemies (i.e. enemies that don't have long-range SAMs) for a prolonged time in rough terrain. Or in other words, the last couple wars the US has been involved in.

        On a side note, I find it amusing that some people complain about how advanced tech like the F-22 is unnecessary since no enemy is even close to a big enough threat to require something that advanced, and then other people complain when tech like this is made which would be useless against advanced enemies. Different enemies require different tools.

        • Or military units that lack long-range missiles. The things are designed to fly at ~20,000 feet (6km), which for reference is the exact maximum range of the longest-range Stinger missile, so you could shoot it if it was exactly overhead (it won't be, though, thats the point). And that is well above the range of non-missile ordinance as well. In other words, it's designed to be used in situations were the military is fighting relatively poorly equipped enemies (i.e. enemies that don't have long-range SAMs) for a prolonged time in rough terrain. Or in other words, the last couple wars the US has been involved in.

          Don't be so sure:

          40mm Bofors [wikipedia.org]
          Produced from 1932 - Present
          Effective range: 24,000ft / 41,000ft (depends on the model)
          Can be owned by US Civilians [youtube.com]

        • I was thinking that you needed a Stinger to shoot it down, but then I realized that a Stinger is a heat-seeking missile. This thing is a giant balloon, and it has little propellers but I don't know how much heat it puts out. The Stinger can track leading-wing heat, but this thing is going at 30 mph. That's not a lot of heat, and there are no wings. Sticking a towed decoy If they want to militarize it, they probably want to use a hybrid drive system with electric fans, and vent the exhaust up. All in all, th

          • by rot26 (240034)
            The bottom might not have much of a heat signature but the top damn sure will unless they fly a super huge umbrella over it.

            A few minor mods to a stinger or similar: shoot straight up, let it glide down looking for the top of an object.

            It CAN pay for itself, though, if they sell advertising space on the underside.
            • by khallow (566160)

              but the top damn sure will unless they fly a super huge umbrella over it.

              So will the ground. Paint the ship so it has a similar heat signature as the ground and/or clouds.

        • by readin (838620)
          We shouldn't be spending our money figuring out how to defeat poorly equipped enemies. The purpose of our military is to be able to defeat, or at least fight to a standstill, other militaries that may threaten our existence (in the future that likely means China). If we can handle China, we can handle anyone. Most importantly, if we can handle China, we won't have to.

          If we can handle China then most of our wars will be with poorly equipped enemies. But planning for those wars instead of planning fo
          • by valadaar (1667093)
            I'm afraid any war worthy of the name with china will be a nuclear one, and no one will win that.
          • by Baloroth (2370816)

            We shouldn't be spending our money figuring out how to defeat poorly equipped enemies. The purpose of our military is to be able to defeat, or at least fight to a standstill, other militaries that may threaten our existence (in the future that likely means China). If we can handle China, we can handle anyone. Most importantly, if we can handle China, we won't have to.

            Both the Soviet Union and the US thought the same thing. Both have had enormous difficulty in maintaining a hold over rag-tag mountain-guerrilla fighters and terrorists who consider horses a fast means of transport. That is a rather significant problem for a military to have: the inability to defeat ill-equipped foes, and frankly as a military's technology grows more advanced, it gets to be a bigger problem. An EMP weapon, for example, may be fantastic against enemies that rely on computers. But if you grow

            • by readin (838620)
              Both the US and Soviet Union were unwilling to do what it took to maintain a hold over rag-tag mountain guerrilla fighters and terrorists. The Soviet Union may have been willing to do the dirty work, but it was unwilling to take the casualties (had the Soviet Union been willing to take the casualties in Afghanistan that the Soviet Union took in WWII, there wouldn't be an Afghanistan today).

              However, if it were truly an existential battle and recognized as such, the Soviet Union could have taken and held A
              • by zlives (2009072)

                I think it has to do with motivation as well, how do you motivate your populace to go out of their way to a podunk nowhere and die in mass numbers for no apparent gain other than monies...

                • by readin (838620)
                  I'm pretty sure money wasn't the motivation for either country's invasion of Afghanistan. For the America it was 9-11, both for capturing Bin Laden and a belief that leaving the country in ruins would allow it to be used as a base for future terrorists and would also be morally wrong.

                  I'm not sure what the motivation for the Soviet Union was, but since they were communists I doubt it was money.

                  At least in the case of America (I frankly don't know that much about the inner workings of the Soviet Union)
                  • by zlives (2009072)

                    hehe my tinfoil hat is fully deployed :)
                    war is good for business.
                    USSR invasion failed because of US involvement and support.
                    We should have learned from USSR. US response should have been proportional (strategic rather than emotional). making sure binladen and his top managers were taken out. Can't destroy a country and hope they will like you back!! Also cant win wars against ideals, only people.

                    yes this is overly simplistic but there are no complex way to arrive at a solution for this either, nature of the

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      US response should have been proportional (strategic rather than emotional).

                      Who says it wasn't? Al Qaeda wasn't just some crooks hiding in a secret lair. They were a significant ally of the Taliban, maintaining a fair-sized militia in Northern Afghanistan. In turn, the Taliban provided them with significant support. A "strategic" response which didn't also take out the Taliban somehow wouldn't have been effective.

                    • by readin (838620)

                      hehe my tinfoil hat is fully deployed :) war is good for business.

                      I don't believe that is true, though I know there are people who do. But even assuming Bush and the cabinet believed war is good for business, they would have to be psychopaths to launch a war for business purposes. Given what I've seen of Bush I just don't believe that's true. He may not be an angel, but I think it is safe to say he has a conscience. I think the same can be said of most of the people at the high levels of US government.

                      USSR invasion failed because of US involvement and support.

                      That doesn't negate what I said about the USSR's willingness to

                    • by zlives (2009072)

                      so "didn't also take out the Taliban"... basically the response after 11 years of war... hasn't been effective either. The cost in lives both foreign and domestic has been very high.
                      I do wonder how things might have been if we had focused in on Afghanistan without the distraction/wtf in Iraq.

                    • by zlives (2009072)

                      As much as I didn't like Bush policy, I think he is a decent guy who may or may not have had the befit of fit council (Iraq war?).
                      what I did mean is that the military industrial complex does benefit from the wars we the taxpayer have to support. I am a proponent of a strong military, but our spending is disproportional. The introduction of military contractors cheapens the sacrifices our armed forces make. Said contractors behavior, though not subject to US articles of war, reflects on US the country not th

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      so "didn't also take out the Taliban"... basically the response after 11 years of war... hasn't been effective either. The cost in lives both foreign and domestic has been very high.

                      They did take out the Taliban. It turns out more difficult to keep them out. Somehow I doubt a "strategic" token bombing effort would have discouraged Al Qaeda or its allies.

        • Different enemies require different tools.

          Especially the ultimate enemy: your own citizens.

      • The right tool for the right job. The job being asymmetrical warfare.

        Just like few (here) had heard of IEDs before the Iraqi insurgents made them popular. It's the right tool for the job, developed for that job. IEDs would not be good for an advancing tank column. Or against aerial bombardment.

        While this blimp wouldn't last long against the Russians or those dirty Canadians, it should help against small unit insurgencies.

        • Speaking of asymmetrical warfare, SAMs are pretty expensive. Helium, hydrogen, and hot air aren't. if I were an insurgent designing a counter-weapon system, I'd think about fighting fire with fire--both figuratively and literally, in this case. That is, I'd build a bunch of tiny contact-fused thermite bombs (maybe with a small amount of a petroleum jelly/napalm-like element for stickiness), wait for a day without a lot of crosswind, then get underneath my flying-football-field sized target and simultaneou
      • To add to what Baloroth says;

        This type of blimp also has Naval uses... Such as coastline surveillance, or keeping an eye on a naval base. Or shadowing a ship/boat or formation at sea. Or flying top cover for one of our formations (like a loitering supply or amphibious group).

        To echo what he says; just because it's low tech doesn't mean it doesn't have uses in high tech warfare.

      • The big drawback with a lighter-than-air design is that your aircraft has to be really large, and that, in turn, inherently limits your speed. Drag on the fuselage is proportional to area, so if you've got an airship five times the diameter of a 747's fuselage, it's going to have 25 times the drag. The result is that airships are limited to low speeds. Top speed of the Goodyear Blimp is 50 mph and top speed of the Hindenberg was 85 mph. It's an inherent design limitation, which means that even with modern t
    • WW I? How about the American Civil War?
      • American Civil War didn't have blimps. They had balloons, but not blimps.

        • by Coisiche (2000870)

          I don't think that post referred to the last civil war but the *next* civil war.

          My bet is on edges versus middle.

          • The civil war you describe is already being fought. There's a major battle held every 2 years, typically on a Tuesday in early November.
  • by Farmer Tim (530755) <roundfile.mindless@com> on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:36AM (#40996051) Journal

    Everybody needs to get a blimp [weebls-stuff.com].

  • by Zaphod-AVA (471116) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:42AM (#40996103)

    I'm having Blade Runner flashbacks.

    Flashbacks to the future are strange.

    • they're immantizing the Gernsback continuum!

      Watch you for falling refrigerators!
    • Technically, it's a flashback to the past's future. Which is, at this point, still is in the present's future. But not by much.
    • by akeeneye (1788292)
      Blade Runner, that's what *immediately* leapt to my mind too. I wonder if these things will have giant display ads on the sides? "Sponsored by the Exxon Corporation" maybe.
      • by Thud457 (234763)

        Blade Runner, that's what *immediately* leapt to my mind too. I wonder if these things will have giant display ads on the sides? "Sponsored by the Exxon Corporation" maybe.

        protip - active camouflage can be easily be repurposed as an electronic billboard [goodyearblimp.com]. And vice-versa.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Goodyear? No the worst...
  • Insert obligatory "welcome our x overlords" here.
  • by aberson (461047) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:46AM (#40996159) Homepage

    also flown at Lakehurst: The Hindenburg

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster [wikipedia.org]

  • Isn't obvious to everyone that this is for domestic or "friendly' spying?
    I guess it is to replace the "urban flies" that are in use today but really expensive to run for extended periods...
    I just don't get why it needs to be so big. You would think they would go small and many to enhance their chilling effect.
    Maybe this is just to scare unwitting populaces that the vorgons have arrived and they will destroy their pitiful sub-continent if they don't comply with their RIAA demands.

  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:50AM (#40996187)
    Yep. That will work just fine.
  • Why is it bouyed with helium, which is incredibly expensive?

    It's unmanned, so why not use hydrogen? Who cares if they lose the odd one to lightening?
    • I know it's terrible. Yeah hydrogen is kinda dangerous, but it's manageable.

    • Re:Helium?! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @10:07AM (#40996353)

      Why is it bouyed with helium, which is incredibly expensive?

      It's unmanned, so why not use hydrogen? Who cares if they lose the odd one to lightening?

      Because there is no point in doing surveillance over non-populated areas. It may be unmanned, but there are people under it.

      • by valadaar (1667093)
        Hydrogen, once free of the bags, would rise very quickly. The only thing those under it would need to fear would be the debris. Fire would only be an issue if it was very low when it happened.
    • by khallow (566160)

      Why is it bouyed with helium, which is incredibly expensive?

      Well, in part because helium is not incredibly expensive.

    • Re:Helium?! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dontclapthrowmoney (1534613) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @10:30AM (#40996577)

      Maybe they should fill it with hydrogen, fly it at very low altitude, and coat it with ball bearings to dissuade people from shooting at it.

  • Is that soccer fields or rugby (aka american football) fields?

    • yes

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Let's see...American company building a blimp for America's army reported by an American news service and displayed on an American website. I'm going to say "football pitch", that makes the most sense!

      Being a dumb American is hard, can you help me define "obtuse" or "willful ignorance" for me?

      Ta ta!

  • by Picass0 (147474) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @09:54AM (#40996237) Homepage Journal

    FTFA >> "The LEMV is expected to be deployed and hovering over Afghanistan skies by January 2012."

    And if you believe that I have some junk bonds I'd like to sell you.

    80 knots = ~ 92mph. That's a slow crawl compared to other aircraft. And it can fly at 20,000 feet. Sitting duck for a SAM.

    A big, slow air vehicle like that isn't practical for flying over an overseas theater. So I wonder who this thing is designed to watch?

    Oh, that's right. Us.

    • One kamikaze FPV-equipped RC plane could take this thing out.

    • by khallow (566160)

      And it can fly at 20,000 feet. Sitting duck for a SAM.

      While that does seem low altitude for such a large blimp, there are several things to note. First, it doesn't have that much of a radar signature and no thermal signature. Second, what's a SAM going to do to it? Pop a few cells? Just pick it up when it lands, fix the bag, replace whatever got broke, and refly it.

      Frankly, I'd be more concerned about what would happen if they lost control of the vehicle. If it went into China or Iran (and perhaps Russia too) before it landed, then that would be yet another

    • by jpmorgan (517966)

      The Taliban doesn't have high altitude SAMs.

      • by fnj (64210)

        They don't have any SAMs of any kind. The only interference with aircraft in flight in Afghanistan is light automatic weapons and the odd lucky hit by an RPG if you are slow and under a couple of thousand feet.

        Look, the Taliban don't even have a single brain between them, that works properly. All they are good at is blowing themselves the fuck up; sadly, taking out actual useful human beings with them in the blast radius.

    • by operagost (62405)
      I do have to admit that January 2012 is a rather short timeline for anyone not named Doc Brown.
    • by operagost (62405)
      BTW, I was wondering how many SAM installations the Taliban currently control... or any terrorists, for that matter.
    • by gtall (79522)

      The Taliban have SAMs now? Maybe your wet dream of a government conspiracy for everything is misplaced?

      • by Picass0 (147474)

        My point was I don't think these things are being built for overseas deployment. This thing is made to order for domestic surveillance. If you sent one of these blimps to Syria or a hotspot where the hostiles have real stockpiles it would last five minutes.

        "Conspiracy" implies our government efforts to control citizens are done in secret. The reality is they have become quite bold in recent years.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @10:17AM (#40996435)

    >> Northrop Grumman has a $517 million contract to build three (blimps) for the U.S. Army.

    It allegedly costs only $2M to build a Goodyear blimp. Wish I knew how to land government contracts like these.

    • by ageoffri (723674)
      Comparing the Goodyear blimp to this is like comparing a Geo Metro to a 18 wheeler. First off it is listed with a seven ton cargo/supply capacity. Doing a quick search on the Goodyear blimp didn't find a rating but the next generation blimp is listed at just over 2 tons. I'd be surprised if the Army blimp doesn't have low observation technologies built-in to it. All in all I'm not surprised at the price and comparing to the Goodyear blimp is an unfair one.

      Now at the same time I'm sure there is an over s

      • Yeah, it depends on whether that's $172M/blimp or $500M in development and $6M/blimp. The current 787/A350 aircraft development costs were in the $10B+ range, with per-unit prices in the $150M-$190M range. With development costs running 70x a production unit, that would come out very close to the $497M/$7M for the cost of the airship.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      If that covers the C4ISR electronic package, that's much more than a simple camera platform.

  • Anyone else feeling reminded of Bullfrog's classic PC game Syndicate? Can't wait to see corporations (e.g. Academi/Blackwater) buying these to supervise their missions.Oh, and please let them send out cyborgs with miniguns and mind control devices.
  • ...reborn.

    Now life imitates art.

  • the chase scene might be a bit boring.
  • Let's see... SAMs shouldn't have a hard time shooting a target of this size down. I imagine it would be difficult to move this thing out of the way of a storm as well. They should be looking at arrays of weather-balloon type devices or something. Perhaps just use satellites? This seems bald stupidity.
    • by tibman (623933)

      Balloons probably aren't stable enough and satellites "blink". But i agree with you.. we already have drones that fulfill this role pretty well. Though i suppose this is just another drone.

  • by nukenerd (172703) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @11:27AM (#40997263)
    Yes, that good old international dimensional unit.
    • by Inda (580031)
      For those non-sports fans:

      Normal football pitches: 45-90m(w) x 90-120m(l)

      International football pitches: 64-75m(w) x 100-110m(l)

      Unless you're talking about hand-egg. I do not know the dimensions for hand-egg.

      I hope that clears things up! I'm always happy to help!
  • It must be acknowledged the potential this odious beast holds for amusement. If this blubberous tyrannical skywhale were to get an infection, it could be quite a show. Maybe Anonymous will hack into the elephantine data-pig and make it hover over the pentagon while playing Kitaro for all 21 of its days. I hope Grumman has taken this into consideration and prepared the bastard with ample laser-disco-balls and extraordinary speakers. But instead of puking forth an abundance of guns like in Zardoz [wikipedia.org], it can spit
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Wouldn't a weather balloon do?

  • by j-stroy (640921) on Wednesday August 15, 2012 @12:25PM (#40998087)
    While driving at night in the desert near Yuma AZ over a decade ago, I saw indicator lights on the tips of a huge triangle. The only reasonable explanation I could come up with was either a very large inflatable aircraft, or a very very slow flying formation of smaller aircraft. I doubt this is actually a new development.. more of an announcement of a project that has already been in play for some time.
  • Somebody took the whole "Spawn More Overlords" thing a bit too seriously.
  • Where's my BB gun...
  • Anyone else notice that the cost for just *3* of these things is half a billion dollars, assuming no cost overruns?

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      Anyone else notice that the cost for just *3* of these things is half a billion dollars, assuming no cost overruns?

      Yup. And if they can't scam cost overruns outta this, they ain't trying.

      And now you know where the NASA budget cuts are going...

  • Perhaps not the best surveillance platform in a country where anyone can buy a 50-calibre sniper rifle.

  • "to fly at speeds between 30 and 80 knots without ceasing for 21 straight days while providing an 'unblinking' eye of surveillance"

    So, by day 22, will there be the paddling of the swollen rump before I get to be a member of the surveillance Stonecutters?

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