The US Army has awarded a contract to Northrop Grumman to develop up to three long endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV) systems.

Under the $517m contract, Northrop will build and test a long-duration hybrid airship system and transport it to the Middle East for military assessment.

Northrop Grumman says the development of the new hybrid airship weapons system will provide continuous surveillance for more than three weeks at a time to aid US troops in Afghanistan.

The LEMV will have capability to sustain altitudes of 20,000ft for a three-week period and will operate within national and international airspace.

The airship will support extended geostationary operations from operating locations using beyond-line-of-sight command and control.

The vehicle will be integrated into the army’s existing common ground station command centres and ground troops in forward-operating bases to enhance situational awareness on the battlefield.

Northrop Grumman LEMV programme manager Alan Metzger said the airship also offers open architecture design in the payload bay to allow sensor changes by service personnel in the field.

Work will be carried out in 18 months by Northrop Grumman in cooperation with Hybrid Air Vehicles of the UK, AAI Corporation and SAIC among others.