Huge US command-&-control airship gets quantum optics
Fibre-fat pipage for 'Blue Devil' aerial computer warship
Not unmanned - Optionally manned
The Blue Devil is "optionally manned", able to fly with a crew if required (as when transiting civil-controlled airspace, for legal reasons) or without (as will probably be the case on most operational missions). The big ship is now inflated with helium and floating moored inside MAV6's North Carolina hangar while company technicians fit it out with payload and systems: it's expected to fly and then deploy to the warzone next year.
It's big alright.
True to the acronym C4ISR, the Blue Devil is also intended to offer some hefty computing grunt, acting as an airborne server for ground troops with mobile network terminals (and offering more services to "advantged users" in forward bases etc with better kit). The "processing pallet" in its payload car will be of supercomputer grade, which should reduce the strain on the pipes relaying sensor data down to the ground - though with the addition of FOENEX, those pipes will be a lot fatter.
Interestingly, we also learn from the new DARPA announcement that Blue Devil is referred to at the Pentagon as "the USAF/Big Safari Blue Devil Block 2". "Big Safari" is a magical phrase in this context, referring to long running and generally highly secretive airborne spookery efforts by the US Air Force and partner agencies. Big Safari has put many strange-looking secret spy planes, drones etc into the sky over the decades: it would seem it is now getting into the airship business as well.
Other parts of the US military also plan to use airships above Afghanistan as airborne spyeyes and comms relay posts. The US Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) uses a more sophisticated "hybrid" design from British engineers which should means it will be more economical with helium, and thus is of more interest to airship buffs (the more so as it could potentially carry heavy cargoes at lower altitudes): on the other hand it was supposed to have made its first flight some months ago now, and instead there has been ominous silence from the programme.
At $517m, LEMV is a much more expensive project than the $86m Blue Devil 2, but it could be that the Blue Devil will actually beat it into the air.
There's also one final aspect for airship fanciers to ponder: MAV6 advertise their big blimp not only as a C4ISR node, but also a "weapon system platform". It could be that the days of the armed aerial warship are about to return. ®
For those noting the term "Blue Devil Block 2" and wondering what "Block 1" might be - perhaps supposing that an earlier giant spyship is already in the air above Afghanistan - a MAV6 blog post provides the answer:
Blue Devil Block I is a fixed-wing aircraft based, multi-INT capability currently doing God’s work.