Army Readies JLENS Surveillance Aerostat

JLENS2The Army is developing  80-yard long surveillance balloons that can pinpoint targets from  beyond-the-horizon by floating up to 10,000-feet in the sky and using radar technology to locate potential targets — such as approaching enemy missiles, aircraft or unmanned systems.

So far, the Army has acquired two systems of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS. JLENS completed Early User Testing in the third quarter of 2013, and concluded system design and development in the fourth quarter of 2013, Raytheon officials said.

The JLENS system completed developmental testing in December of last year; one of the two systems will participate in an operational evaluation at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., and the other is being placed in strategic reserve by the Army in case it is needed for deployments.

A single JLENS orbit, which can help defend population centers, ground troops or other assets consists of two helium-filled aerostats tethered to ground stations with a cable, Raytheon officials said.

One of the two aerostats is engineered with VHF radar technology that can scan the surrounding areas out to distances of 500 kilometers, said Douglass Burgess, JLENS director, Raytheon. The VHF radar scans 360-degrees and is designed to identify targets or areas of interest for the second aerostat which uses a more precise X-band radar, he added.

The X-band radar, while higher resolution, does not scan a 360-degree area but is instead segmented into specific areas or vectors, Burgess explained.

“The two radars work as a pair. They exchange data back and forth so you have a complete picture of what is around you,” he said. “The surveillance radar gives you large volume with a lot of objects. It provides pretty good quality data on where threats are and where they are going. The X-band radar only sees a sectored wedge at a time and it moves mechanically in the direction the threat is coming.”

By placing the radars high up in the air, JLENS could help ground units see over mountains and identify approaching threats from much longer distances that might be possible on the ground.

“At 10,000-feet, we’re not limited by the horizon anymore,” Burgess said.

On three separate test occasions, JLENS has demonstrated its ability to integrate with defensive systems and help Patriot, Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile and Standard Missile 6 weapons intercept a cruise missile target, Raytheon officials said.

JLENS has also tracked threats such as swarming boats, unmanned aircraft, and detected tactical ballistic missiles in their earliest phase of flight, the boost-phase.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at

13 Comments on "Army Readies JLENS Surveillance Aerostat"

  1. Just what they need in Kiev. Barrage balloon revisited. Oops, it’s loose and floating over E.Kazahkstan! Putin has a $100,000 ruble reward offered. Grab that cable, Tovarich!

  2. These blimps just refuse to die. Put a fork in it already.

  3. OMG, OMG, OMG, this thing has FIXED WINGS, why isn't the air farce having a hissy fit and crying to Congress? ;-P

  4. This kind of systems will be more important year after year, is clear that satellites will be the first casualties in any kind of next symmetric confrontation.

  5. Dozens of Tiny drones with hi-res cameras zipping about hither and yon or a giant blimp floating on a tether. What to do what to do?

  6. Air ships are cheap to operate, makes perfect sense. We need more economical solutions like this.

  7. Looks as if it could be a good "Target", what can be seen over the horizon can, can also see it on or over the horizon?

  8. They aren't so easy to shoot down, actually. It's fairly LO, because it doesn't have much of a RADAR cross-section, and doesn't present much of an IR target either. It won't just "pop" when when hit with even multiple bullets. And when combined with a modern air defense system like Patriot, and linked to other assets, it's a very dangerous target to attack. They can see you coming from much further away than your fighter's best AAM can hit, and when/if you can get close enough to attack it, you are already SAM and AAM fodder.

    The only effective way of countering this, is developing a VERY long-rage AAM, or cruise missile, that can target with a video camera and/or home on RADAR emissions.

    And just to reiterate, because it's important- we can afford this, in large numbers.

  9. Give it enough altitude.

    It won't be long before the Navy gets /back/ into the blimp business. High altitude, put a radar in it, give it some missiles. A P-3 (and a P-8) has to go home, but the blimp will stay on station as long as it needs to.

    And when they figure out how to put a CIWS or RAM on it, it'll probably have the gravity advantage when it comes to self-defense. And with high ground comes a free bonus in range for ground-attack weapons.

    Parking one over Gulf of Aden would be nice too. Pick out the little boats, hover over the little boats, drop a Hellfire missile on them as needed.

  10. Would love to see these with Police departments and Homeland Defense

  11. at 10,000 feet one would expect the radar horizon to be in the order of 130 miles, barring anomalous propogation.

  12. Two things to consider:

    1.) a helicopter pilot buzzing along suddenly gets snagged and tangled in a 10,000 foot cable he didn't see… there's always one poor, dumb son-of-a-bitch who just doesn't get the word.
    2.) "OK, Jones, they shot the damn thing down… get out there and roll up that 10,000 feet of cable so we can reuse it."

  13. This article is 10 years late. This system has been in place since early 2005 in Iraq and there are bout 5 different versions of this system. And yes they are already being used in the U.S. along the border of Mexico. JLENS/ LEGACY/ 17M/ 22M/ REAP. And as far as being flown into by helicopters there is this nice little device attached to the cables called a IR strobe. The American public walks around with blinders on . . .Fking Shame!!!

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