Missile-defense, radar blimp now operational above Maryland

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. U.S. Army personnel sent up a blimp armed with a new cruise-missile and drone-fighting radar system from Raytheon for operation above rural Maryland. The system, known as JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor) , has two helium-filled aerostats, or tethered blimps, that float about 10,000 feet above the ground and are equipped with radars.

“JLENS is strategically emplaced to help defend Washington D.C. and a Texas-sized portion of the East Coast from cruise missiles, drones, and hostile aircraft,” says Dave Gulla, vice president for the company’s Integrated Defense Systems’ Global Integrated Sensors business.

As part of the deployment, Raytheon experts lofted on one of the aerostats thousands of feet in the air and then conducted a series of tests to ensure it’s operating as it was intended. Company engineers will continue to test and integrate the for a few more days, then turn the first JLENS balloon over to the Army’s A Battery, 3rd Air Defense Artillery.

The second is expected to go aloft early next year — 2015. Following a series of additional tests, it will then be turned over to the Army, who will perform an operational exercise with JLENS.

During the exercise, data from JLENS will be used by NORAD officials, the U.S.-Canadian organization charged with aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning for North America. The 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, which defends the airspace over the National Capital Region, will also use data from JLENS.

Another JLENS system is in strategic reserve, ready to be deployed anywhere per the request of combatant commanders, should they need defense capability.

A JLENS system, known as an orbit, has ground equipment and an integrated radar system on two tethered, 80-yard aerostats, which hover at altitudes of 10,000 feet above sea level and remain aloft and operational for 30 days. This capability helps enable commanders to defend against threats including cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft, and aircraft. JLENS also provides ascent phase detection of tactical ballistic missiles and large-caliber rockets. JLENS proved it can detect and track short-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase during a series of tests in 2013.

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