High Expectations For Lockheed’s Unmanned Aircraft

Lockheed Martin Corp expects to double its production of new tethered unmanned surveillance airships to eight a month by June 2010 under a $142 million Pentagon order for Afghanistan.

The company also has worked with a unit of Kaman Corp to produce an unmanned cargo helicopter that it hopes to sell towards the military for as small as $10 million a piece.

Both projects are a direct response by Lockheed towards the Pentagon's drive for lower-cost unmanned systems to fight insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and show the company's determination to play a crucial part in the unmanned systems that the Pentagon now favors.

Stephanie Hill, Lockheed's vice president and general manager for ship and aviation techniques, mentioned the Pentagon very first contacted the organization in January, asking how numerous of the white helium-filled blimps it could construct, and how quickly.

In response to the urgent require for much more of the Persistent Threat Detection Systems, Lockheed and its suppliers started functioning on the new airships and buying needed components on their personal even prior to they received the contract, she mentioned.

It calls for Lockheed to construct 17 airships for rapid deployment to Afghanistan, wherever they will be used to maintain watch for enemies and individuals planting roadside bombs.

Equipped with sophisticated cameras and the capability to stream images to U.S. bases about the ground, the airships assist track any activity that could jeopardize the troops.

The 35-meter tethered PTDS airship can stay aloft for 30 days, even in extreme weather, and can carry as much as 500 pounds of sensors. It may be in use by the Army since 2004.

Hill said Lockheed hoped to market more with the airships to other U.S. government agencies, such as possibly the Department of Homeland Security for border patrol, and some foreign countries had been also interested.

Lockheed also has high hopes for that unmanned helicopter it's developing with Kaman. Recent tests showed the helicopter can drop 6,000 pounds of cargo by parachute.

The helicopters also had been far cheaper to maintain, because they need just two man several hours of maintenance for every hour of flight, compared with 12 hours for manned helicopters, he mentioned.

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