CLEVELAND � The pentagon has awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. a $40 million contract to develop a high-flying, remote-controlled blimp that would monitor U.S. borders and scan the horizon for enemy missiles.
The idea is to supplement radar and satellites. The helium-filled dirigibles - about 25 times larger than those seen at sporting events � could also be used to monitor combat zones overseas.
They would patrol at 65,000 feet, or more than 11 miles up, and be powered by the sun. "It�s another mix in the multilayered defense sensors,� Christopher Taylor a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missle Defense Agency, said Tuesday. The goal is to have a prototype ready to fly in 2006. The contract includes a $50 million option to build one.
The agency will direct the design and construction of the prototype in Akron, Ohio by Lockheed an behalf Of the Department of Defense, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the Army.
Blimps can peer down into valleys missed by surface radar and, unlike satellites, their surveillance isn't limited by the Earth�s rotation. They can be aloft for months at a time and, unlike satellites, can land for equipment changes or maintenance.
Depending on tests, the Pentagon will order an unde-termined number of the blimps, Taylor said. The Department of Homeland Security, which includes border Patrols, also will consider ordering blimps, he said.
Last year, NORAD proposed stationing 10 ships to cover America�s borders.