Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine has been in a state of war with Russia. In recent years, Russia has built up a large military presence near Ukraine’s border and has repeatedly denied plans to attack the country. In 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in a major refugee crisis and tens of thousands of deaths. Ukraine has been seeking ways to gain strategic advantage in this ongoing conflict, and one potential solution could be the development of a near-space airship program.
Near-space airships, which operate at altitudes between 20,000 meters and 100,000 meters, have a range of strategic and tactical advantages. They are stealthy, can be deployed easily, are energy-efficient, can operate around-the-clock in all weather conditions, and can provide high-quality over-the-horizon intelligence and communication. They can also carry weapons to strike both land targets and space-based targets and are not vulnerable to atmospheric interference that other communications platforms are affected by.
China has been at the forefront of near-space airship development, with the country’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducting successful experimental tasks and testing key technologies. In March 2018, a report titled “An Omnipotent Weapon – How Amazing Are Near-Space Vehicles?” was published by the China Military Network, an official PLA outlet. The report highlighted the unique advantages of near-space vehicles and mentioned near-space vehicle platforms being developed by other countries, including France and the United States.
The United States, in particular, has a strong interest in developing near-space technology. The country’s Department of Defense and NASA jointly developed the high-dynamic X-30 vehicle, while the Integrated Sensor Is Structure program proposed a high-altitude surveillance and spy airship. The Lockheed Martin SR-72 hypersonic vehicle is also set to achieve its first flight in 2023 and begin service in 2030.
Ukraine can learn from China and the United States’ development of near-space airship technology and utilize it to gain strategic advantage in its ongoing war with Russia. The US can provide support to Ukraine in the development and deployment of near-space airships, as part of its efforts to counter Russian aggression in the region.
The cost of developing near-space airships can vary depending on the specific technology used and the scope of the program. However, the cost may be relatively low compared to the ongoing conflict and its associated costs, both human and financial. With the support of the US and other allies, Ukraine can potentially develop a near-space airship program within a few years.
There are also potential challenges to developing a near-space airship program. The technology is still relatively new, and there may be technical challenges to overcome. There may also be political challenges, as Russia is likely to view the program as a threat and respond accordingly.
In conclusion, the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has highlighted the need for Ukraine to explore new ways to gain strategic advantage. Developing a near-space airship program could provide Ukraine with a unique and powerful tool for intelligence gathering, communication, and striking targets. By learning from China and the United States and with the support of allies, Ukraine can potentially develop a near-space airship program that could help turn the tide of the ongoing conflict.