* Raytheon "JLENS" program could get boost
* Tethered aerostats would feed into existing defenses
* Aerostats work in pairs, may stay aloft 30 days
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 A pair of big, blimp-like
craft, moored to the ground and flying as high as 10,000 feet
(3,000 metres), are to be added to a high-tech shield designed
to protect the Washington D.C. area from air attack, at least
for a while.
The bulbous, helium-filled "aerostats" - each more than
three quarters the length of a football field at 243 feet (74
meters) - are to be stitched into existing defenses as part of
an exercise of new technology ordered by the Defense Department.
The coming addition to the umbrella over Washington is known
as Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted
Sensor System, or JLENS. Raytheon Co is the prime
"We're trying to determine how the surveillance radar
information from the JLENS platforms can be integrated with
existing systems in the National Capital Region," said Michael
Kucharek, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense
NORAD, a binational command, is responsible for defending
air space over the United States and Canada, including the
Washington area with its many pieces of important
The most significant air attack in the area took place on
Sept. 11, 2001, when Al Qaeda militants hijacked American
Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, and crashed it into the
To expand the time available to detect and defend against
any future attacks from commercial aircraft, major changes were
made under Operation Noble Eagle, combat air patrols begun after
the Sept. 11 attacks.
Airspace restrictions were extended. U.S. Army Sentinel
radars for low-altitude radar coverage and short-range
Stinger/Avenger missile batteries were deployed.
Washington is currently guarded by an air-defense system
that includes Federal Aviation Administration radars and
Department of Homeland Security helicopters and fixed-wing
aircraft on alert at Reagan National Airport to intercept slow,
EXPECTED BY END OF SEPTEMBER
The JLENS craft are expected to arrive in the capital area
by Sept. 30, according to Kucharek, who is also a spokesman for
the U.S. Northern Command, which coordinates the Pentagon's
homeland defense role.
A "capabilities demonstration," as the test is called, is
expected to last as long as three years. Its location is being
withheld, pending notification of lawmakers and others.
JLENS craft work in a roughly $450 million pair, known as an
orbit, each tethered to mobile moorings. One of the aerostats
carries a powerful long-range surveillance radar with a
360-degree look-around capability that can reach out to 340
miles (550 km). The other carries a radar used for targeting.
Operating as high as 10,000 feet for up to 30 days at a
time, JLENS is meant to give the military more time to detect
and react to threats, including cruise missiles and manned and
unmanned aircraft, compared with ground-based radar.
The system is also designed to defend against tactical
ballistic missiles, large caliber rockets and moving vehicles
that could be used for attacks, including boats, cars and
A success in the U.S. capital area could give a boost to the
JLENS program, which has been scaled back sharply along with
the Pentagon's other 15 or so lighter-than-air vehicle efforts.
Blimp-like craft offer several advantages compared with
fixed-wing aircraft, including lower cost, larger payload
capacity and extended time aloft. However, their funding is to
fall sharply as Pentagon spending shrinks to help pare
trillion-dollar-a-year U.S. deficits.
Peter Huessy, a consultant on nuclear deterrence and missile
defense, said the system would compliment current U.S.