The idea is pretty wild, even for the dreamers at Darpa: build a giant blimp that can haul 1,800 soldiers and their gear 12,000 nautical miles, in less than a week.But the Pentagon's research arm is serious enough about the project, code-named Walrus, to hand out more than $6 million to Lockheed Martin and Aeros Aeronautical Group to start designing the thing.The Defense Department has renewed its interest in blimps in recent years; a pair of tethered airships kept watch over the giant American military complex near the Baghdad airport, when I was there. The "tri-phibian" (air, land, sea) Walrus is particularly intriguing because the Pentagon is trying to figure out ways to make American forces less reliant on deep-water ports, foreign bases, and billion-dollar airports to wage war. The Army's Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has its own plans for a such an airship.Darpa hopes the designs they've just funded will lead to a small-scale Walrus, capable of carting 30 tons, by 2008, Defense Industry Daily notes. That's as much as today's C-130 transport planes. But it's only a fraction of the million pounds that the agency wants the Walrus will ultimately be able to lug around.(Illustration by John MacNeill, used with premission.)
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