Next week, the U.S. military will launch two giant radar-laden blimps from the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. The airships are designed to spot air and seaborne threats from distances up to 340 miles away.
VB News reported that the program is the only one of its kind. It is the first real-world deployment of the blimps, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The program is designed to patrol the eastern seaboard from an altitude of up to 10,000 feet. Each airship is equipped with a different radar system.
The program will provide the military with long-term, uninterrupted defense capabilities equal to at least five early-warning aircraft. JLENS is also believed to be able to provide significantly more notice than is possible from standard early-warning planes.
JLENS is armed with a surveillance radar that can detect everything from boats to airplanes to drones, and even trucks and cars, and a fire-control radar that integrates with the military’s major missile systems.
On occasion, the blimps may be forced back to the ground in the event of bad weather. However, designers feel it is unlikely that even the heaviest winds could damage the airships. Raytheon has stated that the tethers are made from Vectran, a high-strength fiber. This material has stood up to winds of up to 115 miles per hour.
According to Doug Burgess, the JLENS program director at Raytheon, Army soldiers will operate JLENS during the three-year Aberdeen test. The program will be evaluated based on the answer to the question, “How is it contributing to the homeland defense?” He added that NORTHCOM and NORAD, U.S. and Canadian organizations tasked with defending North American territory, will ultimately decide if JLENS was a success.
If JLENS is considered successful, it could possibly be deployed in any of numerous locations around the world. It is most likely areas targeted will be where the military wants a strategic asset capable of monitoring for incoming attacks and coordinating air-to-air responses to such threats.
At the cost of $2.78 million, JLENS is an expensive program. Its future is subject to officials in Washington, many of whom are members of Congress. The program will no doubt face close scrutiny from budget officials, who will want to know that it has been a good investment.
In the end, everyone hopes that JLENS will never have any actual threats to track, but if it does, the military is confident the system will be up to the task. Nagle and the military believe JLENS will effectively detect any actual threats if they arise. “Joe Taxpayer on the ground, has this idea that there’s this iron dome protecting the U.S.,” Nagle said. “He’s got to understand that JLENS is what we’ve got to answer a threat from cruise missiles and rogue aircraft. They should understand that, and support getting more of these systems.”