New airships to protect British troops

Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle

A brand new, 21st century-style airship could soon be patrolling the skies above Afghanistan, helping protect British and other Nato troops serving there.

A £350m contract's been awarded to American military contractor Northrop Grumman, one of the world's largest defence companies.

The deal will see three Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicles (LEMV) built for the US Army within 18 months and ready for operations by early 2012.

Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle
The LEMV's will be able to endure a small amount of small arms fire

They will be able to stay in the air for up to three weeks at a time and provide what designers describe as an "unblinking eye" of surveillance for forces on the ground.

Alan Metzger is in charge of the project.

He said: "There won't be any gaps in the data that gets sent back down to the troops on the ground.

"I don't know of anything that comes close to that at the moment that can stay in the air for up to three weeks at a time."

Bosses also say the LEMV's skin, a mixture of tough materials and Kevlar (often used in body armour), will be able to withstand a reasonable amount of small arms fire from Taliban fighters on the ground.