Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. has authorized construction of a prototype blimp for tests to determine whether the giant airships return to service, officials said Friday.
The officials, who agreed to discuss the matter only if they were not identified, said the Pentagon would probably announce Lehman's decision next week.
They said Lehman had accepted the findings of an evaluation board that concluded that modern blimps could enhance the fleet's radar and communications capabilities.
But the secretary also decided to withhold endorsement for a major acquisition program until a prototype blimp is built and tested at sea, the sources said.
They said the Navy envisions spending less than $200 million to build a giant blimp that would be equipped with radar and communications gear. The service hopes to award a contract for construction of the prototype this summer.