Who thought it would get this far? Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has won a $100 million DARPA/USAF contract to demonstrate a massive radar integrated into the structure of a unmanned airship. The ultimate objective is to build a 6,000 square-meter active-array radar into a solar-powered stratospheric airship that can stay aloft for a decade. As a first step, the Integrated Sensor Is Structure (ISIS) program plans to build and fly a subscale prototype with a 100 square-meter X-band radar and 600 square-meter UHF band radar to prove the full-sized beast could be manufactured and how it would perform. Northrop Grumman was the losing bidder.
Concept: Lockheed Martin
Because of the sheer size of the active electronically scanned array, DARPA calculates an operational system would be able to detect and track small cruise missiles and UAVs up to 600km away, and dismounted soldiers and camouflaged vehicles up to 300km. Raytheon will develop the AESAs for the demonstrator. The airship would be more like a satellite than an aircraft, operating entirely autonomously after launch. Lockheed's Akron plant, home of the Goodyear Blimp, will help with design.