US military firm offers India stratospheric airships, eyes partners
BANGALORE, India (AFP) Jul 17, 2003
A US-based firm headed by the former director of the US Strategic Defence Initiative "Star Wars" programme offered India its stratospheric airships Thursday and said it was seeking partners.

James Abrahamson, chairman of StratCom International LLC, said Indian state-run and private companies could collaborate for specific research and development programmes to apply to the new airships.

"India is potentially a terrific market," said Abrahamson. "And we are looking for partnerships which can be for building specific applications and also on the technical side."

Stratospheric airships are unmanned, autonomous solar-powered airships designed to fly at approximately 19,700 meters (65,000 feet) and to carry payloads ranging from 909 to 1,180 kilograms (2,000 to 7,000 pounds).

The airships, measuring 150 to 180 metres long and about 55 metres in diameter can be used for both civil and military applications.

"These airships will offer reliable transmission and help in disaster management, mobile data communication in remote and rural areas and telemedicine," Abrahamson told reporters in the southern IT hub of Bangalore.

"Stratospheric airships are extremely cost-effective and offer a range of benefits compared to any other satellite either for civil or defence applications," he said.

He said the airships, at a cost of about 20 million dollars each, were well-suited for a large country like India.

Civil applications include wireless communications and interactive television and radio broadcasts, while military payloads may carry very high resolution multi-spectral cameras for observing ground, airborne or space targets.

The US defence department has already pumped about 100 million dollars into the project and the first prototype will be ready by late 2005 or early 2006.

The airship will be designed to hover over a single point on the surface of the earth, autonomously navigating to counter winds, and will be able to navigate over long distances or on a combat patrol.

StratCom, a unit of the Delaware company, was formed to investigate and develop the benefits of stratospheric airships for military purposes and civil telecommunication applications.

The firm has an exclusive arrangement with Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems, under which the high altitude airship programme for defence has been in development since 1998.