U.S. Army Will Evaluate JLENS Over Mid-Atlantic Region

 - May 17, 2013, 11:50 AM
The U.S. Army will deploy a JLENS orbit consisting of two aerostats from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for an operational evaluation. (Photo: Raytheon)

Prime contractor Raytheon expects that the U.S. Army will begin an operational evaluation in the coming fiscal year of its joint land attack cruise missile defense elevated netted sensor system (JLENS), an aerostat-based surveillance system that will monitor a sizeable chunk of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region.

Doug Burgess, Raytheon JLENS program director, said the Army will deploy a JLENS system, or “orbit,” at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., about 30 miles north of Baltimore on the Chesapeake Bay. The evaluation is scheduled to begin in Fiscal Year 2014, which for the U.S. government starts on October 1, and last about three years.

“The [Aberdeen] site offers a complex, dynamic environment,” Burgess wrote in response to an AIN inquiry. “JLENS has a 340-mile range, so it will track a variety of objects.” These could include air traffic at Washington Reagan National, Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington International airports; maritime traffic on the Chesapeake Bay and in the Port of Baltimore; and any of millions of vehicles on the region’s highways. “The Army will conduct numerous training scenarios with all of these types of objects,” Burgess said.

A JLENS orbit consists of two 242-foot-long (74 meters) tethered aerostats, each connected to a mobile mooring station, communications and control station and data-processing station. One of the helium-filled aerostats carries a 360-degree, VHF band surveillance radar; the other carries an X-band fire control radar to provide target intercept data. They can fly as high as 10,000 feet above sea level and remain aloft and operating up to 30 days. The aerostat is manufactured by Columbia, Md.-based TCOM, which has manufacturing and production facilities near Elizabeth City, N.C.

Raytheon says the system enables military services to simultaneously detect and engage threats such as anti-ship cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft and small, “swarming” speed boats. In February, the company announced that JLENS had detected and tracked four ballistic missile surrogates in their boost phase during a series of tests at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Early last year, Raytheon demonstrated JLENS interoperability with the Patriot anti-missile system to detect, track and shoot down a target drone simulating a cruise missile at the Utah Training and Test Range west of Salt Lake City. Last fall, the Army used JLENS to track multiple speed boats conducting maneuvers on Great Salt Lake.

The JLENS system has been in development for 15 years. Last year, the Department of Defense reduced the program from a planned 16 production orbits to two engineering and development orbits. The reduction triggered a breach of the Nunn-McCurdy act due to the program’s increased unit cost, causing it to be restructured. “Although JLENS is still an acquisition program, the production phase is canceled and the program will focus on developmental and operational testing and evaluations to demonstrate system capabilities,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in March. JLENS has cost an estimated $2.7 billion, according to the GAO.

Burgess said the second remaining JLENS orbit “is available and ready for deployment anywhere in the world, should the warfighter need it.”