JLENS blimps to patrol DC skies

Blimps are making a comeback, this time as a missile defense sensor initially designed to protect skies over the nation’s capital.

Expect within the next year to see the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) deployed about 10,000 feet above Washington providing what contractor Raytheon Co. describes as over-the-horizon (340 mile) coverage. 

The Army recently completed “early user testing” of the JLENS, consisting of two tethered, 242-foot aerostats carrying integrated wide-area surveillance and fire control radars, at the Utah Test and Training Range. The early-warning blimps can remain aloft for about 30 days.

Raytheon says JLENS is capable of “enabling the intercept” of cruise missiles and other unmanned and manned threat using Patriot and Standard Missile 6 defenses.

The JLENS system initially expected to be deployed over Washington reportedly cost more than $2 billion to develop. Raytheon touts the surveillance platform as providing minutes rather than seconds of warning time provided by conventional surveillance aircraft.

The JLENS program was scaled back last year from the original 14 sets of aerostats to two sets. The Defense Department originally wanted to use the blimp’s sensor to monitor air and sea traffic in the Persian Gulf.    

Raytheon said JLENS successfully detected and tracked swarming boats during testing late last year.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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