Earlier today at a press briefing, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled the 2010 defense budget.   The plan would cancel several big-ticket weapons programs.

The $534 billion defense budget for 2010 would increase intelligence and surveillance capabilities. An increased production of the unmanned Predator drone that has frequently been pressed into service to strike terrorist camps in the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Deep cuts in big military machinery, including the $140 billion F-22 fighter jet program and the purchase of 28 new VH-71 presidential helicopters.  The Army’s $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program would lose its armored vehicles. Plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks by rogue states would also be scaled back.

Nearly $11bn would go to fund proposed increases in military personnel.

Sources: Politico; BBCAPReuters

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Raytheon's concept airships.

Raytheon's concept airships. Image: Raytheon

The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Pentagon intends to develop a giant dirigible that will float 65,000 feet above the stratosphere with a shelf-life of ten years.

The unmanned airship will provide “unblinking and intricate radar surveillance of the vehicles, planes and even people below”.

It will be a “cross between a satellite and a spy plane.”

The 450-foot-long craft would give the U.S. military a better understanding of an adversary’s movements, habits and tactics, officials said.

The Pentagon has not yet awarded a contractor to build the prototype. Earlier work was done by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

For further reference, see Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine which has an extensive article on airship designs.