The Joint Land-Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted System (JLENS) has been used effectively overseas to protect United States military from cruise missiles and other threats. The system is made of a giant blimp, or aerostat that is able to stay aloft at 10,000 feet for up to 30 days. The vehicle is 238-feet across and is equipped with 360-degree radar that is significantly more effective than ground radar. These aerostat’s will soon be seen over major cities in the United States, starting with Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. The system provides significant savings over the current system of having military aircraft providing coverage. The system is being looked at for use in Israel to increase the detection capabilities of the Iron Dome. According to James Colbert, a defense expert at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs:
“If you want 24/7/365 aerial coverage, keeping planes aloft is fabulously expensive. Fixed wing planes require fuel, maintenance, pilots, and ground crews – aerostats are persistent and low cost. They just sit up there as long as they have helium.”
“Iron Dome, for example, is ground-based radar looking up and out. JLENS technology is radar that’s already up, so it would be looking farther out. It can potentially pick up the threats being launched from the ground whereas Iron Dome is picking them up once they’ve reached a certain altitude.”
A couple of thoughts. First of all, I wonder if this is why the military is hoarding helium. It is regulated by the military and has become scarce lately for consumer use such as balloons. Second, these blimps are very effective tools. By this I mean that if used correctly, they can be very cost effective and excellent at protecting urban areas from terrorist threats. On the other hand, the vehicle is 238-feet across and flying at 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of surface area to add devices in addition to radar such as cameras or other surveillance devices. The system makes a lot of sense, but in the current climate it seems like a gigantic ever present reminder that big brother is watching.