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Raytheon pushes swarm boat weapon

by Mike Hoffman on September 12, 2012

Raytheon is the latest defense company to get in line to trumpet a missile or radar system’s capabilities in defeating the swarm boats the U.S. Navy has listed as major threats to their ships, especially in an attack from Iran.

Officials from Raytheon say they succesfully tested its Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) against naval swarm boats in June.

Raytheon tested the JLENS’ ability to target swarm boats in the Great Salt Lake. It tested the radar’s ability to track multiple fast and high speed vessels to potentially give a ship commander situational awareness of all threats he might face.

A JLENS system is made up of two aerostats that float up to 10,000 feet off the ground providing radar and communication capabilities to see over-the-horizon threats and communicate with a range of weapons systems.The Army has worked with Raytheon to develop JLENS to track and defeat aircraft and cruise missiles. Swarm boats had not previously been promoted as targets within the program.

JLENS has faced a rocky development program as prices for the system spiraled. The program has already faced a Nunn-McCurdy review because of increasing costs. Mark Rose, Raytheon’s JLENS program director, said the program is back on track and costs have been brought under control.

Inside the Army is also reporting a JLENS aerostat collided with a separate airship in 2011 in North Carolina. Both the JLENS aerostat and the Skyship 600 airship were destroyed in the accident, according to the report.

Development continues as Raytheon officials said the JLENS is expected to complete an operational test with a major command this year, Rose said. He did not know when or what command, but said it’s an important step toward fielding the JLENS for the Army.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

yoyo September 12, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Here is an idea (without regard for cost): Take two of these, replace the radar on one with a battery of a Phoenix-type missile (190+ km range), and string them across the second island chain in the Pacific. BAM–our very own mobile A2AD system.

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Will September 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm

At only 10,000 foot altitude, an aerostat would be vulnerable to command guided, shoulder launched SAMs like the British Starstreak. Boats would have to be destroyed or deterred before they got within range.

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Mike September 13, 2012 at 7:38 am

Think. These "swarm boats" would not have any clue one of these is deployed above a ship at 10K ft. Of course, what other country tells it's enemy every system they possess and how to defeat it?

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tmb2 September 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm

We fly these in afghanistan at half that altitude and you have to strain your eyes to see them against a blue sky unless you're sitting right under it.

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STemplar September 14, 2012 at 5:46 am

Ummmm at 10,000 feet the radar would be able to scan 123 nms to the horizon. I think the boats are probably gonna be fish food.

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Rip September 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm

What's the average wave height/sea state on the Great Salt Lake? A real challenging test, was it?

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STemplar September 14, 2012 at 6:02 am

Small boats wouldn't be able to operate in any significant sea state anyway.

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Matt Holzmann September 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm

that is the largest nutsack I have ever seen….

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Matt Holzmann September 12, 2012 at 8:41 pm

knotsec

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W. B. Cheney, III September 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Thats a big ass ballon to carry arround! Hook it up to a destroyer and you could fly it!
If you want to fly a radar to protect against a high speed boat attack, why not use a drone?

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Mike September 13, 2012 at 7:39 am

Loiter time and 360 degree visibility

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Aerostat Guy September 13, 2012 at 2:18 pm

Mike is right, also it is cheaper to maintain an aerostat than a drone.

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Noha307 September 13, 2012 at 12:04 am

I think the military MIGHT have an unhealthy obsession with acronyms. They call it the JLENS – it should be the JLACMDENS or "jay-lack-em-denz". We've already had the M-ATV which is rightfully the MRAP-ATV. The first sign of a problem is denial. Jus'sayin…

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P.C. September 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Imagine Acronyms are a horse, the military likes to beat a horse dead more times than anyone would really care to count.

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Uncle Bill September 13, 2012 at 12:38 am

While I suppose a MANPAD could take this out at 10000 feet I doubt it could do it from over the horizon. And yes a Global Hawk could do something similar to this for a few hours. The point is that this thing is tethered in a location that gives you a persistent situational awareness for a large area while being well away from any likely action.

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SJE September 14, 2012 at 9:24 am

The fact that it is tethered also sends a signal to the opposing side that they are being watched. This is as much about PSYOPs as anything.

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Guthy September 13, 2012 at 3:51 am

I can see this as being usefull right up to the point where the helium runs out. At the moment the US does not treat what is effecitivly the worlds only bulk helium supply as a strategic asset rather than something to get rid of on the cheap in party balloons. Untill they sort that out this and lockheeds HALE-D / P-791 have a very short lifespan ahead of them.

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Aerostat Guy September 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

There are talks of going to a helium hydrogen mixture to lower the amount of helium used by these systems.

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Spider September 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

OK, we are wasting our He2, I get that, but with H2 having nearly a 4 to 1 lift advantage, and cheaper, to boot, why not use it when lives aren't being lifted?

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Spider September 13, 2012 at 6:27 pm

He, Opps, doesn't have to be diatomic, now then, does it?

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blight_ September 14, 2012 at 8:11 am

Transporting hydrogen for aerostats sounds dangerous. Safe and secure storage of hydrogen in large quantities introduces complexity, especially if these are being used at smaller and smaller bases at the periphery of the country.

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don September 13, 2012 at 8:32 am

what a target, nope

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CG SCPO September 13, 2012 at 9:15 am

Too bad we can't ask this question to the crew of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975. The vessel was over 700 feet long.

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blight_ September 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

Great Salt Lake in Utah is nothing like the Great Lakes…plenty of lakers under the waves up there. Not so many in off of SLC.

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Brian September 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm

It's because its a dead sea. It's really salty. It stinks, and nothing but brine shrimp grows there.

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blight_ September 14, 2012 at 8:08 am

That was my point. Great Salt Lake is not one of the Great Lakes.

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blight_ September 13, 2012 at 10:03 am

I wonder if we could put a stabilized 20mm up there…

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AerostatGuy September 13, 2012 at 2:10 pm

I would possibly burn the fabric of the aerostat but it has been a possibility but when it is at a operating altitude of 10,000 MSL it would only do so much good

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blight_ September 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Perhaps it's time to raise the stakes and just bring back scouting rigid hull airships. The Navy had them in the '30s but lost them in high wind accidents and never replaced them.

I'm not sure they could ever bring back the skycarrier…an aircraft today designed for trapeze recovery would be severely overmatched in modern air combat.

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bdds04 January 31, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Yes , it can with stand it do you think the military would pay that type of money for a system that can't do the job? If you think so you have a lot to learn about that army.

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FONZIE September 13, 2012 at 10:35 am

The title calls this a weapon. I'd call it a sensor…

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bdds04 January 31, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I would say you may be right buddy. But you can never tell what it could be made to do.

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Pappa51 September 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

These Ballons will last about 5 minutes. Then what?
Cheers,

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Aerostat Guy September 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm

What do you mean 5 min these "Aerostats" not balloons can stay up for weeks at a time well out of range of most fighting

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Guest September 13, 2012 at 3:57 pm

The part of the fighting where it gets shot down by the advanced air defense system is probably the worry.

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ffjbentson September 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm

RAID — Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment is an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. There are more than 100 RAID systems are deployed in Afghanistan.
Electro-optic infrared, radar, flash and acoustic detectors elevated by tethered aerostats and on 100-ft. telescoping tower systems enable warfighters in forward operating bases to “see” and know what threats and other activities are taking place far beyond the perimeter. This persistent surveillance provides warfighters with significantly increased safety and security.
You can see them on google earth just visit the
Google Earth Community › Earth › Military ›

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SFC C+11 September 14, 2012 at 2:01 am

I had a chance to work with one aerostat down in Honduras back in 1986, and it worked well for us. We had three modes on the system – an air mode, to look for aircraft, a moving target indicator mode, to look at vehicle movement, and two sea modes, one for calm seas and one for rougher seas. Our ground station had to switch off whenever we went to the sea modes as they could not read it at that time. I'm glad to see they have worked that bug out. These aerostats have seperate chambers for the helium so it is not one huge "balloon" but numerous smaller balloons encased within. It takes a LOT to bring one down, ask the U.S. NAVY about what it takes. They had to take one out that broke away from its tether off the coast of Florida.
I tried to get a jiob working with these after I retired from the Army and everyone said they did not have the system, even the DEA that uses them for drug smuggling.

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bdds04 January 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I feel you my brother in arms.I have also done alot of work with the aerostates form the smallest to the largest one made. I am from the Florida area and I am also looking to get me a job working with aerostates after I retire from the Army in a few more years. In Afghanistan the job is paying up to 150,000 a year.

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Jeffrey September 14, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I wonder if the Iranian air force can shoot these down? If so, then it is a huge waste of money. I would think attack helicopters providing cover for a carrier would do a better job than the hindenburg.

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STemplar September 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Sure, if they're willing to fly over UAE airspace to do it. At 10,000 feet line of sight is 123 NMs to the horizon. The Straits of Hormuz are only about 50 to 80 statutory miles across.

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elmondohummus September 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

While I'll make fun of a military project any day of the week – and regarding this one: Doesn't it look like it needs to wear a pair of briefs or something? I've never seen a more obviously male blimp in my life! ;) – but at the same time, I don't know why there are some cynical comments up above.

An airborne surveillance system – like an E-3 or E-8, for example – are way the hell faster and more maneuverable than any blimp, BUT they would lack the extreme endurance that a blimp could provide. You can put one up there for weeks, and while it's possible to rotate through 2, 3, or 4 jet-based surveillance assets for the same period of time, how much fuel are you using to keep them up? A blimp can be put up, stay up for ungodly periods of time *AND* if it's an airborne radar system, it can warn ground controllers to launch aircraft in case some were coming to shoot it down. (Cont'd…)

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elmondohummus September 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

… cont'd:

On top of that, is it cheaper than a AEW&C, both in acquisition and operational costs? If so, that can't be ignored, even if it's a more vulnerable platform. Furthermore, there's more than dollar costs involved; even if these things were expensive, there would be no human loss in a shootdown. There would if an E-3 or E-8 were downed. (Cont'd…)

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Guest September 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

"Why, yes, in fact they do clang when I fly"

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elmondohummus September 14, 2012 at 3:35 pm

… cont'd:

Now, I don't see an answer to a missile attack on one yet, so I'm not saying that the platform has zero flaws. That would be foolish. Rather, I'm saying it doesn't have to be deployed in a way that makes it vulnerable to everything.

As long as it's effective as a surveillance platform and not expensive, I think aircraft such as these are a great idea. Now, obviously I'm only taking about the lighter-than-air aspect, not the "swarm defense" capability. I'm too ignorant about what that involves to comment on that. But I've always wondered why such platforms weren't, for example, acting as long-range surveilance for airbases, carriers, and missile defenses. You could combine these with E-2s, for example for carrier strike groups: Have the blimp based platform do the routine coverage and save the E-2s – and the fuel, plus the personnel – for more intense operations, for areas where additional coverage is needed, etc.

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tmb2 September 14, 2012 at 4:35 pm

The comments from others here about how vulnerable it is to being shot down seem to be missing the larger point. If this thing is tethered to an Arleigh-Burke, then it's already partnered up with one of the world's best air defense platforms to begin with. If you were an enemy aircraft flying in, are you really concerned with trying to shoot down a blimp or rather the destroyer already locked onto you because they saw you 100 miles out?

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Mike June 22, 2013 at 6:33 am

This will compliment the prism program nicely

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blight_ September 14, 2012 at 8:09 am

I imagine new ones have individual helium bladders, and if each one is bullet proof it might take a while.

How long ago was this? I notice you mention F-14s…

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elmondohummus September 21, 2012 at 9:24 am

Wouldn't it be logical that there are some situations that, like you say, are transitory and thus don't require much endurance (transiting, say, the Panama Canal, or the Suez), but others that are the exact opposite? Say for example, being assigned to defend either canal in the event of a war?

I don't think anyone says that this should replace all airborne surveillance. Rather, I think the point is that it can fit the niche where long endurance is necessary. Going through the Malacca Straits can be a quick run, thus coverable by fixed wing surveillance assets like the E-2, or an assigned positioning during a crisis (which is potentially a case where this could be used).

I know it's tempting to find situations where a given proposed platform doesn't fit and then say "This project will be a waste because it doesn't fit Mission Profile 'X'." But that's just isolating situations where such deployment is illogical; it's not invalidating the entire range of missions where the platform's characteristics can be used in.

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