The US Army confirms it transferred in mid-October a deflated airship previously known as the long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) to the original designer – Cardington, UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV).
The UK company bought the LEMV — stripped of sensitive equipment — from the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) for $301,000, or less than 1% of the total development cost. It was the only bid the agency had received for the craft.
Despite the lowball price, alternatives to the sale (storage, for instance) were deemed “not cost-effective,” says John Cummings III, spokesman for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
Intended to carry a 1,134kg (2,500lb) sensor and communications payload while keeping on station for up to three weeks at a time, the LEMV was supposed to offer a persistent surveillance capability unrivaled by drones like the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper.
The Army Space and Missile Defense Command first awarded the LEMV technology demonstrator contract to a Northrop Grumman/HAV team in June 2010. But despite a successful test flight in August 2012, the programme had been facing mounting problems.
These came to ahead when, last October, a Government Accountability Office report concluded that the LEMV was “about 12,000 pounds overweight.” This cut the airship’s loitering time at 20,000ft down to 4-5 days.
Already behind schedule, the Army cancelled the programme this February.
The DCMA then put on the LEMV on the market for its original acquisition cost of $44 million. But Cummings says, “There was no offer that came in that was deemed to be acceptable” — leading to a wide-ranging solicitation for bids.
HAV was the only bidder to respond, offering $301,000 for the envelope, fins, mission modules, mooring mast, and spare engines. Sensors and equipment enabling remotely piloted flight were not included.
Still, the Army is interested in what the Cardington-based company does with the hybrid airship. “Should they fly again, we will receive data from their flight,” Cummings says.
Northrop once touted the LEMV as potential commercial or military transport, capable of lifting as much as 15,875kg up to 1,500nm.
As a hybrid airship, the LEMV was designed to use an air cushion landing system to manoeuvre and moor on the ground.