The Army's behemoth hybrid airship -- the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle -- has been terminated, according to service and congressional sources.
The LEMV program was canceled last week, an Army official with knowledge of the budget told InsideDefense.com today.
While the service has not formally notified Capitol Hill, a congressional source was told unofficially of LEMV's cancellation. The reason likely has to do with the program being behind schedule and over budget, the source told InsideDefense.com. The program has been funded through reprogrammings rather than through the normal budget since its inception, the source added, guessing that the funding "fell out of the fiscal year 2014 budget in order to pay other bills."
The Army did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
LEMV's fate -- particularly its intended deployment to Afghanistan -- has been in question since earlier last year. The window to send the airship to the battlefield is closing as U.S. troops prepare for a withdrawal in 2014. The airship was once scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in December 2011.
The Northrop Grumman-built airship flew for the first time in August over Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ, but LEMV has had no additional flights since then, Army Space and Missile Defense Command spokesman John Cummings told InsideDefense.com in a Jan. 24 statement. The airship has been going through component testing specifically on its fuel system and pressure system, he wrote.
The $356.2 million program launched in June 2010 experienced several delays before its initial flight. LEMV's delays were related to the challenge of developing "a one-of-a-kind prototype," Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence, told Inside the Army last year.
An October 2012 Government Accountability Office report on Defense Department airship and aerostat programs shed light on new details about problems with the LEMV program which led to rising costs, significant delays and a failure to meet original performance goals.
The goal for the LEMV program was to build an airship capable of flying at 20,000 feet and carry payloads of up to 2,500 pounds for 21 days.
The airship -- which is longer than a football field and over seven stories high -- is 12,000 pounds heavier than originally planned, the GAO report noted. The extra weight resulted in LEMV's inability to stay on station at 20,000 feet for 21 days. Instead, the airship could only stay aloft for about four or five days.
The program recorded a $21.3 million shortfall “resulting from the need for additional engineering and production support to mitigate and resolve technical issues” at the airship's production facility, the GAO said.
Additionally, "fabric production" and "getting foreign parts through customs," were some of the problems that marred the program, according to the report.
Some Army officials were growing skeptical of LEMV because of the substantial bandwidth required to download information from its sensors, Col. Keith Hirschman, the Army's Airborne Reconnaissance and Exploitation Systems project manager, told ITA in December 2012. With the number of sensors that could be integrated onto the platform, "there is a potential bottleneck in getting the data off," Hirschman noted. "People typically forget about that. . . . How long would it take if you didn't have the bandwidth to get data off? How long would it take to download 30 days of video? That becomes the choke point," he said.
The Army needs to think about the entire portfolio "of things that are flying right now," Maj. Gen. Robert "Bo" Dyess, force development director in the G-8 directorate, told ITA in an interview last October. "The way I see it is we need to keep some investment in LEMV to protect . . . perhaps have it as a capability which we look at in the future given whichever situation we are in." He added the service planned to put most of its investment in the existing fleet. -- Jen Judson