back to article Monster Afghan spy airship to feature quad drinking straws

US aero-weapons goliath Lockheed, builder of the famous P-791 airship prototype, was beaten to a half-billion-dollar deal to supply spy ships above Afghanistan earlier this year - but the firm is still marketing its P-791 technology aggressively. Meanwhile details have emerged of the powerful surveillance gear to be carried by …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    This is not a ship

    Not so much a blimp, more like a bloat.

  2. Sureo

    "half-billion-dollar deal"

    No expense to great to find Osama. But I hope they remove the "US Army" logo before deployment.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    6000m (20000 feet) is still vulnerable

    Afganistan is 1000m (Kandahar) to 5000m (Pakistani and Chinese borders) above the sea level. This puts this beast at under 3km from the surface for most of its "operating area". That is within range of a modern heavy machine gun. It does not take a lot to punch through its shell so even being outside "effective range" it can still be damaged by a PK even without taking the PK to a suitably high hill. This is not an airplane - it is not made of metal and is not flying fast so one can take potshots at it at leasure as many times as necessary.

    It needs to fly to at least 30000 feet to be safe there.

    1. SkippyBing


      You'd think the US Army would have a table giving the threat band for various weapons systems they could have used when they wrote the specification...

      Also it turns out you can make a lot of holes in an airship without damaging performance much, the gas tends to leak out slowly and it's quite a low density target, i.e. only a small portion of the total volume actually has mission critical equipment in it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Notwithstanding the smarter answer earlier to your point.

      The Soviet KPV heavy machine gun firing upwards is good to about 1,000, the M2 can manage over 2 km but that's horizontally (roughly) - what would this modern heavy machine gun be that does better?

      (The German "2 cm FlaK" of the Second world War was only good to about 2000 m)

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Vertical Range != Horizontal Range

      Remember that the bullet may travel 2-3Km in a flat trajectory before air resistance slows it (gravity bends it's trajectory downwards, acting in a different direction to that of travel), but when fired vertically that bullet also has the negative acceleration of gravity acting in the direction of travel...

      A bullet will not travel as far from the gun when fired straight up as it would when fired flatter...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1080p HD camera

    Woo Hoo.

    Camera phones will be doing that within 6 months. Surely not enough resolution for serious spy work. Get some decent tech behind it and you have much better video resolution.

    1. Elmer Phud
      Black Helicopters

      Can't have too good a resolution

      After all, it might be able to distinquish between people with guns and a wedding party and we can't have that sort of thing.

      1. Ty Cobb
        Dead Vulture

        Afghan Wedding parties

        Often have AK-47s. Wonder why the get shot at so often......

    2. Ru

      Resolution != Quality

      This is why consumer-grade 15mpix compacts will produce a worse image at 100% zoom than a 6mpix professional DSLR from a few years back.

      The "tech" is in the optics.

  5. Peter Clarke 1

    Is it just me?

    Or if they paint it dark pink it would look like the female genitalia????

    1. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Giant coffee bean

      Maybe Starbucks will pay for upkeep if it's painted brown with their logo on it.

  6. DrXym

    No pilots & potshots

    If this thing is pilotless in operation and up for days or weeks, it seems rather unlikely that it is going to have an uneventful life. It's either going to get blown into the side of a mountain, develop a fault and go careening off or crashing into the ground. If the US army are lucky it will crash into ground not occupied by a school full of children.

    Aside from that, this thing is likely to become a popular sport for anybody with a rifle to take shots at it. They'll probably have to land and takeoff at night to avoid people in a 5 mile vicinity trying to plug it full of lead when it comes in low.

    I hope the benefits are worth the expense.

    1. wim

      not needed

      "I hope the benefits are worth the expense."

      Not needed in military thinking.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ah but...

      (in the same vein as 389 parts per million of CO2 must mean we are all doomed)

  7. Ian Rogers

    Tinny Overlords

    Compare the Lockheed with this

    I'm just saying...

  8. JaitcH

    I thought the U.S. military was segmented.

    How come the U.S. Army is flying this thing? Granted they have helicopters, which have a reasonably low ceiling, but this balloon certainly is in the U.S.A.F.'s domain given it's much higher ceiling.

    Next we'll be hearing the U.S.A.F. has ordered it's very own version, followed by the Marines who always want special versions of things military.

    No wonder the U.S.A. is bankrupt.

    1. OffBeatMammal

      That Royal Navy...

      .... tell them to give their Harriers back to the Royal Air Force right away

    2. SkippyBing

      Segmentitationy stuff

      The US Army are limited to aircraft below a certain weight (can't remember exactly) post some agreement in the '50s, before that they were actively considering buying Fiat G.91s, not trusting the USAF to do close air support properly. I'd imagine an airship is below that limit.

      Also the US Navy have more Hercules transport planes that the RAF so you probably need to rethink the whole segmentation thing.

      I don't know if it still stands but apparently if the USAF can't move a certain number/percentage of Army personnel and equipment a set distance in a given time they're supposed to get re-absorbed in to the Army. They did test this once!

  9. John Goodwin 4

    To me...

    it looks like Thunderbird 2.

  10. Ian Michael Gumby
    Black Helicopters

    Just some stuff to consider....

    First no one's talked about the cross sectional view on radar. (How stealthy the craft?)

    Ceiling? Usually that's classified, so I question the 30K ceiling request.

    As to having to counter the fact that the craft gets lighter as they burn off fuel...

    I wonder why they can't pull water vapor and condense it and store it in to ballast tanks?

    Trivial to do.

    (Especially if you're using some solar collectors to generate electricity.)

    The other thing people have to realize is size... not easy to spot from the ground.

    If the ground enemy had radar, they'd be easier to pinpoint... ;-)

    But with respect to the original airship... Maybe they should consider using it to help fight forest fires?

    1. SkippyBing

      Probably quite small RCS

      As the shell is made of some sort of fabric/composite which will be radar transparent, the only reflectors will be the mission module and engines so the RCS will be similar to something like a Beechcraft. Plus the Taliban don't have much in the way of radar equipment, their SAMs being IR guided. And yes spoofing that shouldn't be a problem for the blimp, heck it may not even have enough IR contrast to show up to most of the Talibans armoury.

  11. CC
    Thumb Down

    A gunners dream

    Perfect for target practice, a big fat slow moving target!

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    Wouldn't this thing be a siting duck for the Taliban's advanced Mach2 stealth jet fighters?

    You know the ones that the US and UK need the f35 lightning to fight against

  13. Peter Clarke 1

    Alternate Power Source

    Something that big should be able to catch a lot of solar power to keep the daytime fuel comsumption to a minimum

  14. Donald Atkinson

    How about a Bofors 40 mm L/70 gun

    The Bofors L/70 has been around for 60+ years and is quite common. It has a maximum altitude of 12,500 meters which is ~41,000 feet. 40mm holes are not small, I'm not sure how useful such a vehicle is when 40mm aa guns are so plentiful. I'm sure the North Koreans would happily sell something along those lines if the Taliban couldn't find something like it in any of the ex-Soviet states.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    but what was the alien message at the begining ???

    or didn't anyone recognise the hand signals (ala close encounters style)

    this is not a airship, its our alien overlords personal shuttle....

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Anyone else notice the Close Encounters hand gestures near the beginning of the promo vid.??

    That and the alarming resemblance to the Dalek ship from "Daleks Invasion of Earth 2150"

    I welcome our new metal clad rulers and offer a chair lift and anti rust paint in honour of their arrival.

  17. Adrian Esdaile

    I still think...

    they could make the Taliban laugh themselves to death by painting that airship to look like a very stretched pair Levis.

    "Hey, Achmed, should we shoot at that aaahh! it looks like a giant floating arse! bwwaaahahahahahhahaa,eerk!" *kerthunk*

    See? It works every time.

    Waiter! My drink is empty!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    beavering away

    So millions of hapless americans beaver away to pay taxes to fund multi-million military budgets to fight people who dont play fair as they spend about 2 quid on their own efforts.

    How long before the beavering yank takes up residence in a ditch much like the one enjoyed by the average afghan. Not long judging by the daily news about job losses.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    <thinking cap on>

    With the ability to carry quite heavy loads and good fuel efficiency, why not convert some of these for passenger / cargo use? Probably not the best example but they would be really useful for the booze dash across the channel :)

  20. Alan Firminger


    Why the problem shedding lift. Surely pump some helium from one bag to another so that the source deflates and the destination increases internal pressure. That would not be expensive on energy.

  21. Tom Samplonius

    This is a patrol craft

    This thing is designed for patrol use. There are a lot of UAVs in the sky already, and they aren't crashing into mountains very often, or being lost to enemy fire. And the use case, is patrol, not an active war zone. So, it will be searching for hostiles, who are trying to go unnoticed.

    Yes, at 3000 metres, some large caliber weapons could hit it. But also, bullet source detectors would instantly pin point the direction of the fire. Enemy forces would be smart enough to not fire at it, because it would reveal their position. They wouldn't be able to destroy a P-791 and leave the area, before it located the source of fire, and transmitted the location, and a Reaper is diverted to the area. And the Reaper would only have to get within 8km before it could start firing back.

    Radar cross sections don't matter either. Hostile forces in Afghanistan aren't lugging around radar sets. When they are attacked from the air, it is usually a Hellfire missile from below the horizon, or behind a mountain, directed by a laser designator on a UAV, or a US military ground patrol nearby. I bet the P-971 will be loaded with target designators.

    I think there just be might UAV overload at some point. They can UAVs cover every sq km, but who is going to monitor and sign off on targets? Yes, a UAV that can stay in the air for a week, cuts down on ground crew, but you still need a 24x7 team watching the feeds.

  22. Amazon Wageslave

    lack of understanding of the likely employment

    The yanks have already used balloons in Iraq/Afghanistan. They were/are tethered above bases with sensor rigs as a force protection measure; spotting mortar firing points and suchlike. This looks like an enhancement of that idea, and I seriously doubt the intention is to fly them around the battlespace.

    Grenade, 'coz it's dead warry innit?

    1. Desk Jockey

      Quick way to find someone...

      Is to follow the tracers! Preferrably not through the direct line of fire! You are correct, the Uk and the US put up balloons with cameras on, any Taleban silly enough to start shooting at them get found quite quickly. A great way to find those pesky insurgents who don't like to show themselves.

      A big, moving balloon just expands the concept and provides a heck of a lot more ISTAR info for the troops on the ground. Afghanistan is the correct location for this equipment, it is just a pity it took far too long to get it into service.

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