One of the two JLENS aerostats on the ground at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Two aerostats make up a JLENS “orbit.”

The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) system program has been savaged by the House Armed Services Committee in its markup of the Defense Department’s 2017 budget.

The proposed cut in funding—from the $45 million requested by the Army to a mere $2.5 million—may signal the end of a program that was a source of controversy well before one of the program’s radar aerostats broke loose and drifted hundreds of miles.

But that incident, which caused power outages and property damage as the wayward blimp dragged its broken tether from Aberdeen, Maryland, into central Pennsylvania, was likely responsible for the program finally being brought to heel.
JLENS was originally intended to be a collection of paired radar dirigibles, tethered to the ground while floating at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. Of each pair, one aerostat would be equipped with a sensitive “look-down” phased array search radar; the other would have a targeting radar for tracking targets and guiding weapons to them.
The system was intended, as the program’s name suggests, to defend against submarine-launched and ship-launched cruise missiles, but it was also advertised as a way to spot low-flying aircraft, drones, swarms of small boats, and even some ground vehicles. Raytheon, the prime contractor for JLENS, and the Army tried to dispel concerns that JLENS could be used for domestic surveillance.
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