Airship Programs Costly, Technologically Challenging

Three of the four major Defense Department aerostat and airship systems currently in development have suffered from “significant technical challenges,” like overweight components, that have led to cost overruns and schedule delays, according to Government Accountability Office auditors. Those three are: the DARPA-Air Force Integrated Sensor is Structure stratospheric surveillance airship, the Army’s JLENS aerostat system for cruise missile defense, and the land service’s Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle airship, according to GAO’s Oct. 23 report. ISIS, for example, “has experienced technical challenges stemming from subsystem development and radar antennae panel manufacturing,” states the report. Consequently, DARPA earlier this year “temporarily delayed airframe development activities, and instead will mainly focus on radar risk-reduction activities.” Similar “technical problems” also led the Air Force to terminate one additional airship project in June: the Blue Devil 2, states the report. As a result of those issues, the Air Force’s cost estimate for one-year of Blue Devil 2 operations and maintenance grew to “at least 245 percent higher than the contractor’s estimate,” states the report.