To some extent the other assets all contribute to the worldwide information gathering network and each has its own set of strengths/weaknesses, depending on how and where they serve. They provide a number of the operational functions that airships (if made available) also could provide, where none of the existing assets are reliable for information about small low radar-cross-section objects and the like.
The fact that these assets can’t easily see them isn’t a fault of mal-design, but the reality of the situation, where there’s a need for ways to house and carry the necessary large antennae and/or widely spaced sensors that would detect them, which HTA aircraft simply don’t suit – but that airships do.
Some only operate from aircraft carriers and can’t support various duties until in the air or simultaneously for various purposes causing vulnerability issues when off serving particular needs. The existing assets also are limited in number.
Types deployed from land bases may not be ideally located near the areas of key interest and be vulnerable to attack and/or political restriction. They also are very expensive to procure and operate compared with the cost of airships doing the same job. There are situations where airships could supplant the need for some aircraft where rapid deployment isn’t necessary, but a better approach perhaps would be to deploy airships to augment the existing assets in combined ways.
Land systems with a wide field of view sometimes fail to satisfy navy needs because their outlook is fixed, often not in needed directions of interest and only as far as the horizon. They also suffer from outage periods due to seasonal and unpredictable or unusual (e.g. sunspot) activity.
Space based sensors have promise but are expensive and not available in the numbers needed.
There are many occasions when Surface Action Groups need airborne surveillance but it’s not available due to being out of reach or just not available at the time needed.
There thus is a case for cheaper airships with long endurance to augment the existing assets during outage periods and when they’re off serving other needs. After all, during both world wars, airships were the aircraft providing the aerial shepherd services and fulfilling other duties (like rescue) after locating people.
Perhaps the reason airships have not been adopted for such roles is bad-attitude by decision makers in the past towards them and protectionism due to favouring HTA aircraft for a number of reasons explained in the answers to, Why were former airships abandoned? A better way for airships to be adopted is for commercial reasons, where they have been used successfully before for various purposes, such as:
- Whale and shark or other marine creatures spotting
- Corral-reef watch
- To find diamonds and minerals
- Life guard patrol services
- Arctic exploration and climate change observation
- Archaeological sites survey
- Jungle or forrest fire watch and agriculture monitoring
- Shipping lane and river watch
- Ports watch
- Customs and fisheries watch
- Boarder patrol
- Road traffic, power lines, oil & gas lines and rail lines survey
- Off coast oil & gas platforms plus wind turbine fields watch
- Aerial observation for policing – crowd watch, summit meetings survey
- Traditional film and camera platform duties over sports and other mass public events
- Avalanche and earthquake region watch
- Flood watch
- Ocean watch
The list is endless!
Airships can serve all of these surveillance needs due to:
- Large size to house big antennae or widely positioned detection sensors
- Stable slow consistent flight at low or high altitudes (as needed) with low vibration
- Low workload control arrangements that can be autonomous at the flick of a switch
- Ability to hold station when needed – to loiter, stand off or support surface needs
- Large windows/apertures to look out of all around
- Comfortable spacious accommodation for crew and observers with human needs facilities
- Long endurance (staying power) to keep at it
- Quiet low emission operation that doesn’t disturb
- Independent operation that serves unobtrusively out of reach when necessary
- Capable for responsive action when needed
- Ability to work with other assets in compatible ways
- Ability to be an on location communication/command/power centre for other assets
- Ability to be a carrier/mother-ship for small drones
That’s why and where Luffships enable such capability!