Intelligence agencies and analysts believe that the threat of U.S. cities coming under cruise missile attack from ships off the coast is real, sophisticated and evolving. The proliferation of cruise missiles, combined with a falling technology curve for biological, chemical, or even nuclear agents, is creating longer-term hazards on a whole new scale. Meanwhile, the June 2005 issue of Air Defense Artillery Magazine notes that experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom showed that even conventional cruise missiles had tactical uses in the hand of a determined enemy.
The primary challenge for theater and national cruise missile defense is the development of a reliable look-down platform to detect, track and identify incoming missiles and support the over-the-horizon engagements in a timely manner. Hence JLENS.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor consists a long-range surveillance radar and a high performance fire control radar, each integrated in a large aerostat connected via tether to a ground based processing station. The result is tremendous surveillance coverage linked to air defense systems, providing wide-area cruise missile defense and the ability to detect short-range ballistic missile launches as well.
When integrated with Co-operative Engagement Capability, JLENS can even serve as the linchpin of combined air defense frameworks with significant anti-air and missile defense capabilities. The JLENS is thus a critical enabler of the Joint Theater Air and Missile Defense (JTAMD) system of systems.
Additional equipment can 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.
All of these tests and pilot programs must have worked well, because Raytheon Company received and then 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 will develop the fire control radar and processing station. Work on the program will be performed at Raytheon sites located in Massachusetts, California, Texas and Maryland. TCOM, L.P., based in Maryland, will develop the 71M aerostat and associated ground equipment.
JLENS is currently managed by U.S. Army Product Manager Lt. Col. Jeffrey K. Souder as part of the Cruise Missile Defense Systems Project Office at Redstone Arsenal, AL. A number of preliminary JLENS contracts have been awarded, and system testing is now scheduled to begin in 2010 (originally 2009), with program completion slated for 2012 (originally 2011).
The US Army’s initial System Acquisition Report submission in 2005, following approval to proceed into System Development and Demonstration (Milestone B), places the JLENS program’s total value over its lifetime at $7.15 billion.
Timothy Carey, VP for Integrated Air Defense at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems division, was excited as he spoke to the Boston Globe in November 2005:
“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.”
Contracts & Key Events
October 29/15: A Raytheon-manufactured JLENS (Joint Elevated Netted Sensor) aerostat broke free from its moorings on Wednesday, before floating 160 miles over Pennsylvania, prompting the scrambling of F-16 fighters. The blimp eventually came down in the north of the state after drifting for three hours, after taking down several power lines in the process. The aerostat was one of two providing radar coverage of the east coast, with the second, fire-control radar blimp now grounded. The heavily-criticized, $2.7 billion program has come under increasing pressure in recent months, particularly after it failed to spot a gyrocopter approaching the Capitol in April.
September 27/15: An LA Times report has found serious short-comings in the JLENS cruise missile defense system, with the Army reportedly trying to kill off the program in 2010. The report details how lobbying kept the $2.7 billion program alive despite operational deficiencies, including software issues preventing integration with the NORAD air defense network; it is unclear whether the two aerostats operating on the East Coast as part of a three-year evaluation – launched in December 2014 and August respectively – are currently linked to this network.
Jan 3/06: 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. “This award marks the end of months of detailed work to define just how the JLENS government/industry team will design, build, test, train, and field the system,” said Army Program Manager Lt. Col. Jeffrey K. Souder.
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).”