Army to launch ‘blimp’ to help protect D.C. from aerial attacks

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By Susanna Capelouto


(CNN) — The U.S. Army plans to launch two stationary “blimps” at 10,000-feet in the air next week to better protect the Washington D.C. area from cruise missiles and other possible air attacks.

It’s part of a three-year test by the North American Aerospace Defense Command of the so-called JLENS System, which is designed to work with already existing air defense technology.

The tethered large balloons, called aerostats, carry technology that will almost double the reach of current ground radar detection, officials said. The JLENS manufacturer, Raytheon Corp., says the system can provide radar coverage to an area the size of Texas.

It will “increase decision time available to respond efficiently and accurately for the defense of the National Capitol Region,” NORAD said.

The JLENS system — which stands for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor — has no firing capability. Any response to missile attacks would still come from ground missiles, ships and airplanes, according to NORAD.

The balloons will fly above the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and do not carry any cameras.

“It’s not for surveillance,” said NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek. “It’s simply for the detection of cruise missiles.”

The 242-foot-long aerostats will be tethered to the ground by 1⅛-thick “super-strong” cables, according to Raytheon. The tethering system is designed to withstand 100 mph winds and had no problems in 106 mph winds during testing, the company said.

The helium-filled aerostats can stay aloft for up to 30 days at a time, making it five to seven times cheaper to operate than using aircraft for the task, Raytheon says.

NORAD says the JLENS system will be crewed by 130 personnel at the Maryland base.

The agency is working with the FAA so the balloons won’t impede air traffic, Kucharek said.

Weather permitting, a launch is planned for Monday, just in time to aid NORAD in its most important December task.

“We fully intend to take the information gathered by the system and use it to track Santa,” Kucharek said.

CNN’s Brad Lendon contributed to this report.

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  • miles (dave)

    i wonder why only 30 days. if its use is radar other than maintenance id think it could stay up indefinitely. id think any power it would need you could send up with the tether cables.

  • Teame Zazzu

    very little anonymous geo-location data is needed to determine the identity of those being tracked, in this case – US. Anonymized mobile phone location data produces a GPS fingerprint that can be easily used to identify a user based on little more than tracking the pings a phone makes to cell towers…researchers found that it took very few pieces of data to uniquely identify 95 percent of the users and trace the activity to a specific anonymous individual. [B]ased on hourly updates of a user’s location, tracked by pings from their mobile phone to nearby cell towers as they moved about or made and received calls and text messages, the researchers could identify the individual from just four “data points.” With just two data points, they could identify about 50 percent of users.

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