Giant Blimp Deflated; Laser Jet Delayed

The big weapons -- the destroyers, the aircraft carriers, and the stealth jets -- all emerged pretty much unscathed in the Pentagon's latest budget. Some of the more bleeding-edge projects weren't so lucky. Especially at the Missile Defense Agency, which took about a half-billion dollar hit for fiscal year 2008.HAA_alt.jpgTake the High-Altitude Airship, for instance. Just a year ago, the Pentagon handed Lockheed a $150 million contract to build the missile-spotting dirigible. No, it wouldn't be 25 times bigger than the Goodyear Blimp, as originally planned. Nor would it be powered by lasers. But it would still be built to "hover above the jet stream at an altitude of 65,000 feet for months at a time." That is, if major advances in solar panels, fuel cells, aerodynamic controls, and flexible materials could be overcome.Lockheed won't get the chance any time soon, however. The High Altitude Airship "has been canceled due to funding constraints," according to the Missile Defense Agency. But get too distraught, blimp-lovers; the budget for the Aerostat Joint Program Office just jumped from $243 million to $481 mil.The Airborne Laser -- the modified 747, meant to zap missiles as they take off -- still gets more than $500 million in the new budget. But its first live-fire test has been delayed, again. Originally scheduled for 2002, the blast has now been rescheduled for 2009, Inside Defense notes. The Laser Jet's alternative -- the "Kinetic Energy Interceptor," a non-explosive interceptor missile -- has been pared back, as well. There's no longer a "kill vehicle," or warhead, part to the program, Defense News observes. Instead, the KEI has been tweaked, to become a "common booster" for all sorts of missile interceptions.There's much, much, much more in this budget to explore. Expect lots of posts in the week to come.

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