A set of high-tech Army blimps are heading to the Washington, DC area, and soon the blimps will be able to provide the military with surveillance that span hundreds of millions of acres from North Carolina to Niagara Falls, Canada. The blimps are part of Raytheon’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System or JLENS. They will offer the United States military what the defense contractor calls “an affordable elevated, persistent over-the-horizon sensor system” that relies on “a powerful integrated radar system to detect, track and target a variety of threats.”
Raytheon has just finished a six-week testing period in Utah and is now sending its JLENS fleet to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Once the blimps are there, the Army intends to get some experience that will lead to launching the pair of airships over Washington, DC. Once in flight above the nation’s capital, JLENS will allow the Army to see for up to 320 miles in any direction from the blimps. The airship system may be set up to operate on its own, 10,000 feet in the air, for a month without requiring refueling, and offers the Pentagon surveillance capabilities that dwarf other options at a fraction of the cost.
Raytheon stated JLENS “enables commanders to defend against threats including hostile cruise missiles, low-flying manned and unmanned aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, large caliber rockets and moving surface vehicles such as boats, SCUD-launchers, automobiles and tanks.” Raytheon states on its website, “Affordable defense from real world threats.”
The Army will launch its integrated set of airships, each around 225 feet in length, into the sky, each carrying “powerful radars that can look deep into enemy territory.” The launch begins by asking the residents of the metropolitan Washington, DC area, and those 320 miles in any direction to ignore the sophisticated spying machines.
“JLENS uses advanced sensor and networking technologies to provide 360-degree, wide-area surveillance and precision target tracking,” and the JLENS surveillance radar can “simultaneously track hundreds of threats.” The surveillance blimp, however, is only half of the JLENS program.
While one airship provides surveillance, the other contains radar that picks up information about incoming threats and then communicates with separate missile systems that can then wage attacks, or counter-attacks. “We’re proving blimps can see more than just the 50-yard line,” Doug Burgess, JLENS program director, said. “We really feel like we’re at the point now — development is complete — and the system is ready to be deployed wherever it’s needed.”
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