JLENS: Co-ordinating Cruise Missile Defense – And More



February 13/17: Those who suffered property damage as a result of last October’s rogue JLENS blimp rampage will have to sue external link in order to get any compensation. A US Army investigation decided that “no government employees, agencies or entities were responsible or negligent” in the incident and thus would not be paying out. Disgruntled residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania will instead have to either sue the Army in federal court or pursue a state lawsuit against Raytheon. The service received 35 property damage claims after the surveillance balloon broke free of its moorings while dragging its mooring line across the two states before deflating enough to be shot down by State Troopers.


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JLENS Concept (click to view full) Experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated that even conventional cruise missiles with limited reach could have disruptive tactical effects, in the hands of a determined enemy. Meanwhile, the proliferation of cruise missiles and associated components, combined with a falling technology curve for biological, chemical, or even nuclear agents, is […]
JLENS Concept

JLENS Concept
(click to view full)

Experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom demonstrated that even conventional cruise missiles with limited reach could have disruptive tactical effects, in the hands of a determined enemy. Meanwhile, the proliferation of cruise missiles and associated components, combined with a falling technology curve for biological, chemical, or even nuclear agents, is creating longer-term hazards on a whole new scale. Intelligence agencies and analysts believe that the threat of U.S. cities coming under cruise missile attack from ships off the coast is real, and evolving.

Aerial sensors are the best defense against low-flying cruise missiles, because they offer far better detection and tracking range than ground-based systems. The bad news is that keeping planes in the air all the time is very expensive, and so are the aircraft themselves. As cruise missile defense becomes a more prominent political issue, the primary challenge becomes the development of a reliable, affordable, long-flying, look-down platform. One that can detect, track and identify incoming missiles, then support over-the-horizon engagements in a timely manner. The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) certainly looked like that system, but the Pentagon has decided to end it.

The JLENS System: This is Not Your Grandpa’s Barrage Balloon

Height & Radar Coverage Circles

Radar: height matters.
(click to view full)

In Air Defense Artillery Magazine, Major Thomas J. Atkins sums up the 2-aerostat JLENS system:

“The JLENS system consists of four main components: the aerostats, the radars, the mooring station and the processing station. The [2] aerostats are unmanned, tethered, non-rigid aerodynamic structures filled with a helium/air mix. The aerostats are 77 yards long (three-fourths of a football field) and almost as wide as a football field. The aerostats must be large enough to lift the heavy [volume search or fire control] radars that provide the system’s extended range. The radars are optimized for their separate, specific functions, but weigh several tons each. The surveillance radar searches very long distances to find small radar cross-section tracks before they can threaten friendly assets. The fire control radar looks out at shorter ranges than the surveillance radar, but provides highly accurate data to help identify and classify tracks while providing fire control quality data to a variety of interceptors. The two aerostats are connected to the ground via tethers through which power and data is transmitted. The tethers enables the aerostats to operate at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet and contain power lines, fiber-optic data lines and Kevlar-strengthened strands surrounded by an insulated protective sleeve. The tethers connect to mobile mooring stations that anchor the aerostats to the ground and control their deployment and retrieval. The mooring stations are connected to ground-mounted power plants and processing stations. The processing stations are the brains of the whole system. Each processing station contains an operator workstation, a flight-director control station, weather-monitoring equipment and a computer that controls radar functions and processes radar data.”

JLENS takes 5 days to go from transport configuration to full deployment, or to pack up. Once deployed, Raytheon says that JLENS’ radar can detect and target threat objects at a range of up to 340 miles/ 550 km, depending on the object’s size and radar/ infrared signatures. A 2013 test confirmed the ability to track short-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase.


Raytheon on JLENS

Once deployed, JLENS can work as part of the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense (JTAMD) system of systems. When integrated with Co-operative Engagement Capability, JLENS can even serve as the linchpin of combined air defense frameworks. An elevated sensor such as JLENS can support ground based air defense units, such as Patriot, Aegis/Standard Missile and SLAMRAAM (ground-based AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles). In the All Service Combat Identification and Evaluation Team (ASCIET) ’99 exercise, a 15m aerostat was deployed with a Cooperative Engagement Capability relay on a mobile mooring station. This relay allowed the Army’s Patriot air defense system and the Navy’s AEGIS weapon system to exchange radar data. Other tests have involved SM-6 and AMRAAM missiles.

Development of missile options like the long-range infrared-guided NCADE missile, which can be mounted on long-endurance platforms like MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and possibly even added to the JLENS system, would add another potential dimension to the platform.

Additional equipment could offer commanders extensive communications relay capabilities, or even area surveillance of the ground. The JLENS program reportedly deployed a smaller 15 meter aerostat to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In late November 2003, the Army announced its intention to redeploy the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment (RAID) force protection aerostat from Afghanistan to Iraq. RAID, adapted out of JLENS via the Army Rapid Equipping Force, became its own program, involving both flying aerostats and fixed-tower configurations like GBOSS.

A privately-funded January 2013 test mounted similar equipment on a JLENS system, successfully demonstrating its ability to monitor humans walking near roads.

The JLENS Program

JLENS Infographic

JLENS Infographic
(click to view full)

JLENS is currently managed as part of the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office at Redstone Arsenal, AL. As of January 2007, Raytheon Company defined and finalized a $1.4 billion contract modification from the U.S. Army for full-scale JLENS system development and demonstration. Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems is responsible for the fire control radar and processing station, and work on the program will be performed at Raytheon sites located in Massachusetts, California, Texas and Maryland. TCOM LP, based in Maryland, will develop the 71M aerostat and associated ground equipment.

The US Army’s initial System Acquisition Report submission in 2005, following approval to proceed into System Development and Demonstration (Milestone B), placed the JLENS program’s total value over its lifetime at $7.15 billion. By October 2011, estimates to complete the program had reached $7.56 billion, with about $1.9 billion spent to create 2 demonstration systems. Another $634.1 million in R&D would be required to finish, followed by $5.2 billion in procurement funds to buy the other 14 systems. Back in November 2005, Raytheon VP for Integrated Air Defense Timothy Carey was excited:

“This is going to be one of our foundational programs over the next 10 to 20 years… As we try to grow the business here in New England, it’s important to have these programs that play out over a long period.”

He turned out to be half-right. It won’t be foundational. It will play out over a long time.

In January 2012, the FY 2013 budget proposal called for the cancellation for JLENS’ production phase. The 2 existing systems would remain, to be used for further testing and trialed in exercises, but funding would begin to taper off rapidly after 2013. Recent budgets have included:

FY 2008: $464.9 million, all Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation (RDT&E)
FY 2009: $355.3 million, all RDT&E
FY 2010: $317.1 million all RDT&E
FY 2011: $399.5 million, all RDT&E
FY 2012: $327.3 million, all RDT&E
FY 2013 request: $190.4 million, all RDT&E. This was actually a $34 million increase, to fund the Secretary of Defense directed COCOM Exercise extended test program.

The US Army was planning to field 5 Orbits (1 EMD and 4 Procurement) between FY 2013-2017, and a low-rate production decision was due in September 2012. Procurement would have run for another 10 years. Now it won’t, with just 1 demonstration system protecting Washington, and another in Strategic Reserve.

On the other hand, with border surveillance growing as a security concern amidst Mexico’s Cartel Wars, cruise missile defense still a weakness, and US military operating costs becoming a growing issue, the question is what the Pentagon proposes as a JLENS replacement.

JLENS: Contracts & Key Events

FY 2013 – 2017

1 orbit into Strategic Reserve; 1 orbit preps for 3 year surveillance over Washington; AMRAAM & End User tests.



February 13/17: Those who suffered property damage as a result of last October’s rogue JLENS blimp rampage will have to sue in order to get any compensation. A US Army investigation decided that “no government employees, agencies or entities were responsible or negligent” in the incident and thus would not be paying out. Disgruntled residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania will instead have to either sue the Army in federal court or pursue a state lawsuit against Raytheon. The service received 35 property damage claims after the surveillance balloon broke free of its moorings while dragging its mooring line across the two states before deflating enough to be shot down by State Troopers.

April 26/16: The House Armed Services Committee has issued a massive cut to the Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor system (JLENS) program to only $2.5 million. With the Army initially requesting a budget of $45 million for Fiscal Year 2017, the slashing could put a stop to the troubled program often referred to as “Runaway Blimp.” Political enthusiasm for JLENS has been waning significantly since the Raytheon-made tethered aerostat broke free from its mooring in Maryland, and floated into Pennsylvania, only to be shot down by state troopers. Rep. Jackie Speier stated “This isn’t the first time we’ve tried to kill this ‘zombie program’ — let’s hope it stays dead this time.”

March 1/16: With testing only resumed within the last fortnight, the latest problem to afflict the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) program has reared its ugly head. A recent report stated that tests found that the radars are having problems identifying “high priority radar targets” as the system struggles to convey accurate, timely information about potential airborne threats. Software which incorporated special features to supposedly deal with “very high target densities” instead excludes “certain target sets.” While Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wants to increase funding into the troubled program, the latest report may only increase an already vocal support for scrapping the project.

February 16/16: After four months of being grounded, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has allowed for testing to resume on the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The unmanned radar ballons haven’t been used since October, after one of them broke free from its moorings at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and drifted 160 miles north over central Pennsylvania. An investigation into the incident reported that a number of errors were responsible including design issues, as well as human and procedural error. Funding for the program was recently slashed by three quarters by Congress to reflect “test schedule delay.”

December 21/15: US Congress has voted to slash the funding for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) program by $30 million. This leaves just $10.5 million in funding for development of the project. Last Wednesday’s 2016 defense spending bill cited “test schedule delay” as reason for the cut in finance. The announcement runs contrary to recent vocal support made by retired admirals and general for continuing the program despite recent snafus involving the breaking free of a radar blimp from its mooring and floating more than 100 miles.

December 8/15: The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System(JLENS) radar program has received another vote of confidence after a group of retired admirals and generals gave their support for the program. The group have spent their careers specializing in missile defense, and follows last week’s news that the 35 members of the defense appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate were in favor of continued funding of the program. JLENS aims to spot low flying cruise weapons and UAVs with plans to have them as part of a defense network for major cities. Since beginning military action in Syria, Russia has been able to test its latest military technologies and hardware, which included the first the first real-world test of its Kalibr land attack cruise missile in October. The testing has given rise to the need for an effective defense system for the US from long range cruise missile attacks.

December 2/15: Despite facing criticisms and ridicule over its runaway blimp incident in October, US lawmakers have put their faith behind the $2.7 billion JLENS missile defense system. The Los Angeles Times reported that all 35 members of the defense appropriations subcommittees in the House and Senate were in favor of continued funding of the program. The vote of confidence comes alongside a December 11 deadline by Congress to cut $5 billion from Obama’s proposed defense budget with some programs at risk. While the report may seem like good news for JLENS and manufacturer Raytheon, we’ll have to wait until after the vote to see if these blimps are too big (or expensive) to fail.

August 21/15: The Army launched a JLENS aerostat on Wednesday to increase cruise missile early warning coverage of the East Coast, joining one first launched in December last year. The unmanned, tethered platforms will complement each other through the operation of both broad-area and precision radar systems, providing an over-the-horizon early warning capability. Developed by Raytheon, the two Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS) units are part of a three-year evaluation program to assess the capability of JLENS with NORAD’s early warning architecture.

Oct 13/14: NORAD. Deployment hasn’t begun yet, but Raytheon has completed a series of laboratory tests that demonstrated the ability to covert information from JLENS into a format that can be used by NORAD’s command and control system. Sources: Raytheon, “U.S. Army’s missile-fighting radar-blimp achieves critical milestone”.

June 27/14: Politics. The Washington Free Beacon reports that JLENS will be one of the items under discussion during House / Senate conferencing. The House’s 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) slashed JLENS funding from $54 million to $29 million, while the Senate bill kept funding intact. If the Senators can’t bargain JLENS funding back, the House amount would stand:

“A cut will force the [Defense Department] to make some very hard choices. For example, they might have to decide between maintaining the system or integrating JLENS into the National Capital Region’s defense architecture,” one defense expert familiar with JLENS told the Free Beacon…. they might decide to partially integrate the system and just use one of the aerostats…. Those are all bad choices because they defeat the purpose of holding the exercise in the first place….” Sources close to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which did not support the House’s cut to JLENS, said that some GOP senators are moving to protect the system.”

It would appear that privacy advocates like the ACLU and EFF have their golden opportunity, if they want to crimp the program. Sources: Washington Free Beacon, “Congress to Cut Key U.S. Missile Defense System”.

June 26/14: Industrial. JLENS aerostat manufacturer TCOM’s is moving to broaden the scope of its Elizabeth City, NC facility from lighter-than-air manufacturing, assembly, and testing, adding a new Center of Excellence. That will expand the facility’s capabilities to include integration testing of platforms, payloads, sensors, etc.

The larger vision involves an East Coast center that offers unique opportunities for the U.S. and international governments to conduct testing and training on a range of LTA platforms and towers. The CoE will also serve to demonstrate complete turn-key ISR and communications solutions to a broad range of domestic and international customers. Sources: TCOM LP, “TCOM Launches Persistent Surveillance Center of Excellence at Company’s Manufacturing and Flight Test Facility (MFTF) in Elizabeth City, NC.”

June 24/14: Strategic Reserve. Raytheon announces that they’ve finished preparing 1 of the US Army’s 2 JLENS systems for storage in the Strategic Reserve. On the one hand, it isn’t operational. On the other hand, it becomes an item that combat commanders can request. System Design and Development formally ended in Q4 2013. The 2nd system is scheduled to participate in an operational evaluation at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD in the fall. Sources: Raytheon, “Raytheon completes preparing JLENS radar for contingency deployment”.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to JLENS, the total program cost now sits at $2.78212 billion, which is almost all R&D except for $40.51 million in military construction.

“In August 2013, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics approved the program’s revised acquisition program baseline, re-designated the program’s acquisition category and delegated milestone decision authority to the Secretary of the Army. The JLENS program satisfied developmental testing and evaluation requirements and is proceeding with plans to execute a 3-year operational combatant command exercise…. Site construction for the deployment of the exercise will begin at Aberdeen Proving Ground after the February 2014 construction contract award. The construction will involve completing aerostat pads, roads, operation and support facilities, and infrastructure. The initial system is expected to arrive at the exercise site location in June 2014 and initial capability delivery is expected for the surveillance radar in September 2014 and the fire control radar system in December 2014.”

Previous reports placed the pads, buildings, utilities and parking for each of the aerostats about 4 miles apart: one at Graces Quarters in Baltimore County, and one at G-Field in Harford County.

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). JLENS is included, and DOT&E says that expected reliability improvements haven’t panned out as promised. The system still doesn’t meet program requirements for Operational Availability, Mean Time to Repair, or Mean Time Between System Abort. This is both a hardware and a software problem; it can be made worse by poor weather that either reduces radar performance, or forces the aerostat out of the sky entirely.

The Fire Control Radar can support air defense engagements, and “demonstrated a limited target identification capability that partially met requirements and basic interoperability with other air defense systems.” On the other hand, the system still needs to improve non-cooperative target recognition, friendly aircraft identification capabilities, and target track consistency. Very limited budgets and very restricted testing have contributed to these issues.

Jan 16/14: Test deployment. Military officials didn’t get many attendees at a Baltimore County public meeting to explain JLENS, even though 71% of readers in a Washington Post article poll saw the deployment as a threat to privacy. The 2-aerostat system will be tethered 10,000 feet over the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, and will be visible from downtown Baltimore on a clear day. The FAA will have to set up a “special use airspace” corridor for them during the 3-year test period.

Current JLENS plans involve only the airborne radar, which can spot objects in the air from North Carolina to the Canadian border, and objects on the ground from Virginia to New Jersey. The Army says that they have “no current plans” to mount the MTS-B long-range day/night camera turret that Raytheon deployed in a privately-funded Utah test (q.v. Jan 14/13). They also said that they didn’t intend to share information with federal, state or local law enforcement “but [the Army] declined to rule out either possibility.” Which is to say, their policy could change at any time, by bureaucratic directive. Sources: Baltimore Sun, “Officials present radar blimp plans for Aberdeen Proving Ground” | Washington Post, “Blimplike surveillance craft set to deploy over Maryland heighten privacy concerns”.

Aug 7/13: AMRAAM test. Raytheon announces a successful interception of a target drone by an AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, fired from an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter based on a Link-16 cue from JLENS. The July 17/13 intercept was successful, and represents the 1st test of JLENS against low-flying cruise missile targets, as well as the 1st test involving AMRAAM. Other tests have involved PATRIOT and SM-6 surface-to-air missiles.

Raytheon VP Air Warfare Systems VP Harry Schulte touts the firing as something that “enables the world’s most capable air-to-air missile to engage targets at the weapon’s maximum kinematic range.” This is technically true, but probably not operationally true, unless and until the USAF gets clearance to fire on targets based only on JLENS radar ID and Link-16 transmission. Outside the testing range, the fear of a catastrophic mistake creates Rules of Engagement that demand visual identification. Unless the JLENS radar picture is so good that it produces visual ID quality snapshots for transmission, that’s unlikely to change. JLENS would still be very useful in vectoring interceptors for a look, but any aircraft that gets a look won’t be firing at maximum kinematic range. Raytheon.

July 24/13: Testing. Raytheon announces that JLENS has finished a 6-week End User Test with the US Army, which included a stretch of 20 days of continuous operation and “a number of complex scenarios that replicated an operational environment.”

JLENS product manager Dean Barten is pleased, and says the next step involves deployment to Aberdeen Proving Ground for an operational evaluation. Deployment usually follows successful OpEval. Raytheon.

Feb 11/13: To Washington. The Washington Post reports that NORAD is working to integrate JLENS with the surveillance system over Washington, DC. The JLENS are expected to arrive by Sept. 30/13:

“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.”

Jan 14/13: EO test. Raytheon continues to fund JLENS demonstrations, and touts a recent exercise that used the JLENS’ MTS-B day/night surveillance and targeting turret, despite heavy smoke from recent, naturally-occurring forest fires. While the MTS-B visually tracked targets, and watched Raytheon employees simulate planting a roadside land mine, the JLENS simultaneously tracked surface targets with its integrated radar system. Raytheon.

Dec 5/12: Testing. Raytheon continues to tout recent tests, including a recent exercise that used JLENS to simultaneously detected and tracked “double-digit [numbers of] swarming boats, hundreds of cars and trucks, non-swarming boats and manned and unmanned aircraft” all at once. Raytheon.

Oct 23/12: GAO. The Government Accountability Office releases a report on the 15 aerostat and airship programs underway at the Department of Defense. They estimate that $7B worth of spending has been allocated to this category, most of which was spent on R&D. JLENS and its peers see steep declines in their budgets beyond FY 2013.

The GAO by definition likes centralizated oversight, so they object to the lack of coordination between all these programs. Actually, that’s a pretty normal and even healthy state of affairs for new technologies.

Oct 5/12: Support. Raytheon in Andover, MA receives a $59 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract modification, covering JLENS support until Sept 28/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by US Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

FY 2012

Budget cuts and restructuring; DOT&E highlights reliability issue; PATRIOT, SM-6, and small boat detection tests.

LTA JLENS Attack Scenario

JLENS attack scenario
(click to view full)

Sept 21/12: SM-6 test. JLENS is part of a test involving the new SM-6 naval defense missile. During the test, JLENS’ fire-control radar acquired and tracked a target that mimicked an anti-ship cruise missile, then Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) was used to pass the data on to the firing ship. The missile used that targeting data to move into range of its own radar, found the target, and destroyed it. Raytheon.

Sept 10/12: Boat test. Raytheon touts JLENS performance during a recent test at Great Salt Lake, UT, and makes the case for JLENS’ affordability. During the tests, JLENS simultaneously detected and tracked multiple speedboats, which simulated a real-world swarming scenario with a series of tactical maneuvers at low and high speeds. The test is a good argument for JLENS usefulness protecting key ports. As for affordability, Raytheon VP David Gulla says that:

“JLENS is affordable because during a 30-day period, one system provides the warfighter the same around-the-clock coverage that it would normally take four or five fixed-wing surveillance aircraft to provide… JLENS is significantly less expensive to operate than a fixed-wing surveillance aircraft because it takes less than half the manpower to operate and has a negligible maintenance and fuel cost.”

All true, but if the system is at less than 1/4 of reliability goals (vid. March 2012 DOT&E entry), many of these dollar savings disappear quickly.

April 30/12: JLENS/ PATRIOT test. The promised firing test takes place during an exercise at the Utah Training and Test Range. Raytheon says that:

“In addition to destroying the target drone, initial indications are that the JLENS-Patriot systems integration met test objectives.”

That will help make the case for JLENS as a very low operating cost option for cruise missile defense, but is it too late? Raytheon | Lockheed Martin.

March 30/12: SAR – end JLENS. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 31/11 includes JLENS, but not in a good way. It would cut $5.917 billion from the program by removing all 14 production systems, and leaving just the 2 demonstrators:

“The PAUC increased 215.7% to the current APB, due primarily to a reduction in the total program quantities from 16 to 2 orbits. The FY 2013 President’s Budget suspended the production program of 14 orbits; however, the two engineering and manufacturing development orbits will be completed and delivered, which will allow the Department to achieve remaining technical knowledge points in the design and development of the program and preserve options for the future. The increase in the PAUC is also attributable in part to a previously reported extension of the development program and an increase in development funding to resource an extended test program and other activities to support participation in an exercise.”

End of JLENS Production

March 30/12: GAO report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs” for 2012. For JLENS, the report cites early problems with the fire control radar software, and the September 2010 destruction of a JLENS system, as key issues that have put the program behind. The JLENS program has also been affected by alignment with the Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense program. The IAMD program is aiming for a standard set of interfaces between systems such as JLENS and other sensors, weapons, and back-end command-and-control systems, in order to provide a common air picture for everyone. That forced the Army to extend the JLENS development phase by 12 months, which also drove up program costs.

The question is whether JLENS will proceed to production. With about $1.9 billion spent, the GAO estimates that the program needs $5.95 billion more to field all 14 twin-aerostat systems: $634.1 million in R&D, and $5.2 billion in procurement. A low-rate production decision is now due in September 2012, but the Pentagon’s 2013 budget proposals have put a cloud over that milestone. If they change their minds and go ahead, a full-rate production would be expected in November 2014, with procurement running until 2022.

March 2012: DT&E SE test report. The Pentagon’s Developmental Test and Evaluation and Systems Engineering FY 2011 Annual Report covers JLENS, noting the possible scenarios for the program and flagging reliability issues:

“One scenario is completion of the program of record resulting in low-rate initial production (LRIP), FRP, and full operational capability. The second scenario eliminates program funding starting in FY 2012 [DID: the direction of the Pentagon’s FY 2013 pre-budget submission], and the third scenario is to enter an operational exercise prior to an LRIP decision… The system entered DT&E with reliability less than the goal to meet reliability growth requirements. The estimated reliability prior to entering DT&E was approximately 15 hours mean time between system abort (MTBSA). The goal was to enter DT&E with 70 hours MTBSA.”

Feb 13/12: Mostly dead. The Pentagon releases its 2013 budget request, and leaves JLENS almost terminated, except for some forthcoming exercises. As Miracle Max knows, there’s a difference between “mostly dead” and “all dead.” The thing is, it takes a miracle to make the difference meaningful. JLENS is no longer listed in the programs by weapon system, but it does get an entry in the overview book. An excerpt:

“The Army will restructure JLENS and assume a manageable risk in Cruise Missile Defense, and subsequently rely on [DID: more expensive to operate] Joint aerial assets to partially mitigate any associated capability gaps. Additionally, this decision will allow more time for the Army and the Department to review total program affordability while the program conducts Combatant Commander exercises. The proposed savings in FY 2013 is $0.4 billion and totals $2.2 billion from FY 2013 – FY 2017.”

Jan 26/12: Budget cut. The FY 2013 budget under Secretary of Defense Panetta contains a raft of program cuts and delays, including the proposed “curtailment” of JLENS, “due to concerns about program cost and operational mobility,” as a program that was “experiencing schedule, cost, or performance issues.”

The phrasing of this statement is ambiguous at all levels. Why “curtailment” and not “terminate”, since that seems to be the intent? Disappointment about operational mobility also seem odd, given that the entire system was always meant to be a fixed aerostat that can be shifted with a bit of time and effort, in order to monitor a wide but high-value area. The US Army’s LEMV program is a mobile airship, but it isn’t designed to carry the same level of air and ground radar sensors, or cover the same area. Meanwhile, programs like the High Altitude Airship and ISIS describe future technologies that aren’t even close to fielding. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]

Jan 25/12: Testing, testing – my patience. Utah’s Deseret News [the correct spelling] reveals that JLENS is having testing problems with golden eagles, as well as local NIMBY(Not In My Back Yard) residents. The key problem involves approval to launch drones from Eskdale in Snake Valley, in order to test JLENS. In response, the Dugway Proving Ground has sought civil FAA permission to launch from its own property, and secured temporary approval for 6 flights in 2011. Problem 1 is that temporary approval will lapse soon. Problem 2 involves runaway bureaucracy:

“Because the launch site is technically changing from Eskdale to Dugway, the Army has to detail and gather public input to obtain a modified environmental assessment that will consider impacts to nesting golden eagles at Dugway as well as other potential impacts to wildlife… Launching from Dugway will necessitate a round-trip flight of the drones, which will still fly over the Snake Valley before returning to Army property, rather than a one-way launch of the plane from Eskdale… Sometime later this year, JLENS will conduct a live-fire exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range north of I-80 where a drone will be shot down by a Patriot missile after it is detected by one of the aerostats.”

Nov. – Dec. 2011: Testing. JLENS successfully completes its 1st set of tracking tests at the Utah Training and Test Range, tracking simulated low-flying cruise missiles, plus live UAVs, fighter aircraft, and moving surface targets on ground and water. It also demonstrated its ability to communicate Link-16 targeting data, and interface with IFF combat identification systems.

A live-fire Patriot missile test is expected in late 2012. In the meantime, testing continues in Utah and at White Sands Missile Range, NM. Raytheon release.

Dec 13/11: Infrastructure. Raytheon announces that they’ve established a JLENS test site at White Sands Missile Range, NM. 2012 is expected to see a Patriot missile firing, cued by JLENS. White Sands is the place for that.

FY 2009 – 2011

Prototype destroyed in collision. Cost increases.

JLENS test

(click to view full)

July 25/11: Testing. Raytheon announces a successful JLENS endurance test at the Utah Training and Test Range near Salt Lake City. While 30 days is a program goal, Raytheon doesn’t say how long the test was for. A subsequent Oct 11/11 release touts a 14-day test.

April 15/11: SAR. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 30/10 includes JLENS as a program with significant-class cost increases under Nunn-McCurdy legislation:

“Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) – The PAUC (Program Acquisition Unit Cost, includes amortized R&D) increased 17.9 percent and the APUC(Average Procurement Unit Cost, no R&D) increased 13.3 percent to the current APB, because the development program was extended six months due to delays in testing resulting from engineering challenges. The increases in unit costs are also attributable to the addition of preplanned product improvements for reliability, safety, affordability, or producibility of the JLENS systems.”

Having your prototype destroyed in a collision is certainly a challenge.

SAR – major cost breach

April 14/11: Testing. Raytheon announces that the JLENS aerostat aloft at the Utah Test and Training Range has successfully demonstrated tracking targets of opportunity in Salt Lake City, Utah’s air space.

April 13/11: WIRED Danger Room reports:

“Last fall at a South Carolina test facility, inclement weather caused a Skyship 600 airship to come loose from its tether and crash into one of the Army’s forthcoming prized spy balloons. [The JLENS] was destroyed, along with the Skyship. What did the Army do? It upped its funding requests for the JLENS. Inside The Army, which first reported the JLENS-Skyship collision, finds that the Army is asking Congress to add $168 million for the program next year, on top of an original request of $176 million.”


Feb 9/11: Testing. Raytheon announces that JLENS’ radar demonstrated its ability to transmit data from the aerostat at the Utah Test and Training Range, while deployed to an altitude of 10,000 feet. It all seems like baby steps, but that’s how these things proceed. Especially when dealing with a system that has to carry required power etc. up the aerostat’s tether.

Sept 15/10: PATRIOT. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Grand Prairie, TX receives a $7.1 million firm-fixed-fee and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for “PAC-3 Integrated Fire Control.” Lockheed Martin representative confirmed that this contract is “for integration of the [Patriot] PAC-3 Missile Segment with the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor [JLENS].”

Work is to be performed at Grand Prairie, TX; White Sands Missile Range, NM; and Chelmsford, MA, with an estimated completion date of Aug 30/12. One bid was solicited with one received (W31P4Q-10-C-0304; Serial #1936). See also FBO solicitation.

April 14/10: Testing. The US military launches 2 unmanned 233 foot JLENS aerostats about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City, UT. Several more tests are proposed for Utah later in the year, including over the remote northern portion of the Great Salt Lake and parts of the Snake Valley, which are remote and serve as good stand-ins for environments in Afghanistan.

Summer 2009 flight tests near Elizabeth City, NJ were limited to 3,000 feet, but the Utah tests will go up to 10,000 feet. Associated Press.

March 30/10: GAO Report. The US GAO audit office delivers its 8th annual “Defense Acquisitions: Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs report. With respect to JLENS, it says:

“Although the JLENS design appears stable, the potential for design changes remains until the maturity of JLENS components have been demonstrated. For example, the JLENS program continues to define, develop, and design the mobile mooring station used to anchor the aerostat during operations. Although the mobile station is based on a fixed mooring station design, the program has yet to demonstrate its mobility. The mobile mooring transport vehicle is still being designed and the program office expects the survivability requirements for the vehicle to change. This may require the program to add armor to the vehicle. According to program officials, the combined weight of the mooring station and an up-armored vehicle would exceed the maximum allowed for roads in the United States and in a operational theater.

“…The cost and schedule of the JLENS program could be negatively affected by the Army’s [Integrated Air and Missile Defense] program… tasked with developing a standard set of interfaces between systems such as JLENS and other sensors, weapons, and… components to provide a common air picture. As part of the IAMD strategy, the Army plans to extend the system development and demonstration phase of the JLENS program by approximately 12 months and delay low-rate initial production until fiscal year 2012.”

March 26/10: Infrastructure. Walbridge in Detroit, MI won a $40.7 million firm-fixed-price contract to design & build 3 tactical equipment maintenance facilities (TEMFS) at 3 close but separate sites in Fort Bliss, TX. Supported projects will include a sustainment bridge, a JLENS aerostat battery, and a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile battery.

Each TEMFS will provide a complex with repair and maintenance bays, equipment and parts storage, administrative offices, secure vaults, oil storage buildings, hazardous material storage, and other supporting facilities such as organizational storage buildings. Work is to be performed in Fort Bliss, TX, with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/11. Bids were solicited via World Wide Web, with 4 bids received.

Aug 25/09: Scheduled date for TCOM to fly a fully equipped JLENS 71M aerostat to 3,000 feet, in its first test flight. Source.

CEC Concept

CEC Concept
(click to enlarge)

June 5/09: CEC. Science Applications International Corp. in St. Petersburg, FL wins a $5.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for the fabrication, assembly, and testing of compact solid state Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) antennas. These small, lightweight antennas would support mobile applications of the CEC system, including the Marine Corps Composite Track Network (CTN) and the U.S. Army’s Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor aerostat (JLENS). The contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $18.4 million.

Work will be performed in St. Petersburg, FL and is expected to be complete by June 2010. This contract was competitively procured through full and open competition via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online and Federal Business Opportunities websites, with 2 proposals received by the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-09-C-5213).

Nov 19/08: CDRR. Raytheon successfully passes critical design readiness reviews (CDRR) on its final 2 prime items, the surveillance radar (SuR) and the communications and processing group (CPG). These prime items are prerequisite to the overall JLENS Orbit CDR planned for later in 2008.

System testing is still scheduled to begin in 2010, with SDD program completion in 2012. Raytheon release.

FY 1998 – 2008

Demo program. SDD. Preliminary Design Review.

JLENS, moored

JLENS moored
(click to view full)

March 31/08: PDR. Raytheon’s JLENS has successfully completed Orbit preliminary design review (PDR), which reviewed all aspects of JLENS design maturity. The decision clears the program to move ahead with detailed design, and JLENS system testing is scheduled to begin in 2010, with SDD program completion scheduled for 2012.

Each JLENS Orbit consists of 2 systems: a surveillance system and a fire control system, which includes a long-range surveillance radar and a high-performance fire control radar integrated onto a large aerostat. These are connected by cables to the ground-based mobile mooring station and communications processing group. Raytheon release.


March 4-6/08: The US Army reports that a group of Soldiers from Fort Bliss, TX have been brought to Raytheon in Huntsville, AL for early user assessment of the JLENS communication and control station. The 2nd early user assessment is scheduled in October 2008.

Neal Tilghman, a principal human systems engineer at Raytheon Warfighter Protection Center, says the goal is to get user feedback on the design concepts and layout of the JLENS communication and control station: “We’re in the early prototype stage and we want to head off any early issues, design concerns, in the early phase of the program…”

April 11/07: SFR. Raytheon announces that JLENS has completed a successful system functional review. The primary objective of the review was to ensure complete allocation of system level requirements to the various subsystems or prime items. The 3-day technical review evaluated system requirements and functions for each of the prime items, including the fire control radar, surveillance radar, processing station, communication system, and aerostat platform. This successful completion allows the program to progress to the preliminary design phase.

Jan 11/07: SDD. Raytheon Co. in Andover, MA received a $144.3 million increment to a $1.43 billion cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for acquisition of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, System Development and Demonstration Program.

Work will be performed in Andover, MA (47%), El Segundo, CA (28%), Long Beach, CA (6%), Columbia, MD (5%), Elizabeth City, NC (5%), Huntsville, AL (3%), Laurel, MD (2%), Dallas, TX (14%), Austin, TX (1%), Alexandria, VA (1%), and Greenlawn, NY (0.9%), and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2012. This was a sole source contract initiated on Oct. 27, 2005 by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

Jan 3/07: Raytheon announces that negotiations have finalized “a contract modification for system development and demonstration of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).” The contract is described as $1.4 billion in this release.

System Development (SDD)

Nov 15/05: Raytheon announces “a $1.3 billion contract modification from the U.S. Army for system development and demonstration of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS).”

Oct 20/05: Raytheon announces that JLENS completed a successful system functional review (SFR) in late September 2005. This technical review is the last major milestone for the technology development acquisition phase of the program, and marks the readiness of the program to enter the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase.

The primary objective of the SFR was to ensure complete allocation of system level requirements to the system prime items. The two-day technical review included an overview of the JLENS system and in-depth reviews of each of the prime items, to include the fire control radar, surveillance radar, processing station, communication system, and platform.

During SDD, all hardware, software and logistics support required to deploy the system will be developed and will undergo extensive testing to ensure the system meets its requirements.

June 23/05: Raytheon Co. in Bedford, MA received a $79.5 million modification to a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for JLENS. Work will be performed in Bedford, MA and is expected to be complete by July 31, 2010. This was a sole source contract initiated on Dec. 29, 2004 by the US Defense Space and Missile Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001).

June 10/05: Sensors. FLIR Systems Inc. in Wilsonville, OR received the full delivery order amount of $32.9 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for FLIR Star SAFIRE sensors for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. Work will be performed in Wilsonville, OR and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2006. This was a sole source contract initiated on June 6, 2005 by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (W9113M-05-D-0002).

Note that this contract may actually be associated with the derivative RAID system. A subsequent award of this type made under this contract on Sept 26/06 refers explicitly to “StarSAFIRE Sensors for the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment System.”

Jan 30/98: H&R Co., a joint venture of Hughes Aircraft Co. and Raytheon Co. located in El Segundo, CA, won an $11.9 million increment as part of an estimated $292 million (if all options are exercised) cost reimbursement, cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-award-fee, and cost-plus-fixed-fee completion contract for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) Demonstration Program. This is something less than JLENS would eventually become, more like a prototype for what would eventually deploy as the smaller RAID system.

Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (44%); Bedford, MA (44%); Columbia, MD (10%); San Bernardino, CA (1.5%); and various locations in the United States (0.5%), and is expected to be complete by March 30, 2002. There were 3 bids solicited on June 27, 1997, and 3 bids were received by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, AL (DASG60-98-C-0001). The DefenseLINK release said that:

“The program has three primary objectives. The first is mitigation of the risk associated with the execution of the program; the second is design, development, procurement, fabrication, integration, test, demonstration, and maintenance of a system which meets the performance specification; and the third is to provide an operational “leave behind” system for user evaluation and for use in the event of a contingency deployment.”

Demo program

Additional Readings & Sources

* Raytheon – JLENS.

* Defense Update – Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensors System.

* GlobalSecurity.org – Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor [JLENS].

* DID FOCUS – The USA’s RAID Program: Small Aerostats, Big Surveillance Time. Smaller system that spun out of JLENS, for use in a different ground-looking mission.

* DID (Nov 15/07) – Cruise Missile Defense Hits the USA’s Political Radar Screen.

* USAF (April 25/06) – Tactical recon paying dividends with TARS. Not JLENS, but it offers an interesting angle on ground-looking uses for systems like JLENS. As digital camera technology improves, the differences created by JLENS’ greater height will go away.

* Boston Globe (Nov 15/05) – Raytheon wins $1.3b Army pact.

* Air Defense Artillery Magazine (July-August 2005) – PDF of Magazine Issue. See “JLENS” (pp. 12-14). Good background on the JLENS system. Describes the very close call 1st Marine Expeditionary Headquarters had in March 2003 at Camp Commando, Kuwait, via a cruise missile attack that was not detected by defensive systems.

* Air Defense Artillery Magazine (April-June 2005) – PDF of Magazine Issue. The smaller RAID derivative is mentioned in a pair of articles covering Iraq and Afghanistan experiences: “1-62 Air Defense Artillery Writes Final Chapter of Its History” (pp. 27-30) and “How ADA Sentinel Teams Helped Restore Democracy to Afghanistan” (pp. 34-35).

* Army Communicator (Fall 2001) – JLENS reintroduces aerostats to the battlefield.

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