* System shows it can track certain tactical ballistic
* U.S. Army program manager cites JLENS system "proven
* Raytheon says can lop one-third off officially projected
WASHINGTON, Feb 18 A Raytheon Co system
built into big blimp-like balloons has demonstrated capabilities
that could make it easier to detect and track certain enemy
ballistic missiles, the company and the U.S. Army's manager of
the program said.
System tests in December at White Sands Missile Range, New
Mexico, successfully tracked four targets mimicking tactical
ballistic missiles in "high-threat" regions, Raytheon is set to
announce on Tuesday.
The hardware is known as Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile
Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS. It includes a
targeting radar and a wide-area surveillance radar with a
360-degree look-around capability that can reach out to 340
miles (550 km).
Each radar system flies as high as 10,000 feet with a
separate, 74-meter-long aerostat capable of operating aloft for
up to 30 days while tethered to mobile moorings.
The bulbous, blimp-like aerostats work in pairs officially
estimated to cost about $450 million - though Raytheon has said
it can lop a third off of that price.
The Dec. 6-7 tests met all primary and secondary goals,
including "launch point estimation, ballistic tracking and
discrimination performance," Raytheon, the world's biggest
missile-maker, said in a draft press release.
The missiles were tracked during their so-called boost
phase, it said, including two that were "ripple-fired" one after
JLENS' "proven capabilities" provide another tool that could
help protect U.S. and partner forces from "the growing ballistic
missile threat" and other threats, Dean Barten, who manages the
program for the Army, said in the release. Barten's statement
was confirmed to Reuters by an Army spokesman.
The army is preparing one of its two existing JLENS systems,
formally known as an orbit, for a three-year exercise that will
tie it into a high-tech shield designed to protect the
Washington D.C. area from air attack.
The second existing JLENS system could be sent overseas
sooner. The system is designed to provide more time to detect
and react to cruise missiles, manned and unmanned aircraft and
other threats, compared with ground-based radar.
It also has been demonstrated to be capable of picking out
moving vehicles that could be used for attacks, including boats,
cars and trucks, according to the Army and to Raytheon.
"We think JLENS is ready for action wherever it may be
needed," Mark Rose, Raytheon's JLENS program director, said in a
The program has been scaled back sharply by the government
amid Pentagon belt-tightening to help pare
trillion-dollar-a-year U.S. deficits.