High-Altitude Airships for the Future Force Army

by Lewis Jamison, Geoffrey Sommer, Isaac R. Porche III

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Abstract

Across the services, there is an increasing demand for overhead communications capacity. New, lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles that operate at very high altitudes have an obvious attraction for planners of surveillance and communication missions; the ability to see to a more distant horizon results in greatly expanded surveillance volumes. This report informs the U.S. Army about the usefulness and limitations of high-altitude airships (HAA) in the role of platforms for communications and surveillance suites in theater battlespace. Potential alternatives are solar-powered HAA and airplanes flying at 65,000 feet or above that can remain geostationary for months. Potentially, HAA may provide communications satellite capabilities for the WIN-T network that are less expensive than satellites and may support a Global Hawk-like surveillance package in the Multi-Sensor Command and Control Constellation (MC2C). HAA performance issues include engine power, envelope strength, and permeability, solar-cell power, fuel-cell capacity, weather, launch and recovery, and air defense survivability.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Research and Development

  • Chapter Three

    Missions and Payloads

  • Chapter Four

    Airship Limitations and Vulnerabilities

  • Chapter Five

    Alternatives

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions

  • Appendix

    The Tradeoff Between Airship Volume and Operating Altitude

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center.

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