Saturday, March 14, 2009

Blimps Defeat Fighters in Air to Air Combat

Hotair linked to an article in the LA Times today on a plan for a new breed of "spy blimps." Not too revolutionary until you get to this...

"...But flying at 65,000 feet, the giant airship would be nearly impossible to see, beyond the range of any hand-held missile, and safe from most fighter planes. And its range would be such that the spy craft could operate at the distant edges of any military theater, probably out of the range of surface-to-air missiles as well."

Say what?

I'll give you manpad missiles. 65,000 feet is way above the target ceiling for everything from the US Stinger, through the SA-18 and the Mistral. But fighters? let's see...

SU-30, service ceiling 56,800 feet. Doesn't that get it in range of an AA-10?

Mig-29, service ceiling 59,100 feet. Still in range.

Mig-35, service ceiling 62,000 feet. Getting closer now.

How but the old, but still respectable (and in service) Mig-31, with a service ceiling of 67,600 feet.

The other thing to consider is that are looking at extremes of operational capability. For the blimp to be "safe from most fighter planes" it must continuously operate at the edge of its envelope. For a fighter to kill it... well he only has to push the past the "limits" momentarily. Same with a SAM. Wasn't Gary Powers above the "ceiling" of the SA-2 that shot him down?

I think the potential endurance of a blimp and the line of sight coverage mean it could could give our forces some advantages. Sell it on that basis. Not how safe it is. The "they can't get us here mentality" is not a recipe for success.

Take a lesson from history and remember the last words of General John Sedgwick, "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance."


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