Raytheon’s [RTN] Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) has demonstrated its capability to detect and track swarming boats hundreds of miles away in test scenarios in June.

Able to stay aloft 24 hours a day for about 30 days, the persistent surveillance system offers a capability for the Army and Navy that is not currently filled by manned aircraft, and do it less expensively.

For DoD, there isn’t a capability like this–there is no alternative to fill critical capability gaps that have been identified, said Randy Buhidar, JLENS business development manager for Raytheon, told Defense Daily in a recent interview. JLENS “is ready for a mission now,” he said.

A JLENS orbit consists of two 74-meter tethered aerostats with radars attached to mobile moorings and with communications and processing. One aerostat carries a surveillance radar with 360 degree capability that can reach out to 550 km; the other aerostat carries fire control radar. The radars simultaneously detected and tracked multiple speed-boats on the Great Salt Lake, Utah. The boats, similar to swarming boats in the inventories of hostile navies in high-threat regions, simulated a real-world scenario with a series of tactical maneuvers at low and high speeds.

“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,” said David Gulla, vice president of Global Integrated Sensors for Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business.

Research conducted by the Army’s JLENS Product office found that the cost of operating large, fixed-wing surveillance aircraft is five to seven times greater than the cost of operating JLENS, the company said in a statement.

JLENS increases situational awareness for commanders, covering a close to theater-size area, Buhidar said. This offers more time–and distance from the target/s–for commanders to consider the options to respond to threats such as hostile cruise missiles, low-flying manned and unmanned aircraft, and moving surface vehicles such as boats, SCUD-launchers, automobiles, trucks and tanks. The ability to conduct engagements at a maximum kinematic range increases the survivability of troops and protected assets.

Additionally, JLENS could provide ascent phase detection of tactical ballistic missiles and large caliber rockets. With Raytheon’s Patriot Weapon System, the JLENS demonstrated the ability to detect, track and shoot down a cruise missile-type target (Defense Daily, April 30).

The program plans further work with the Navy, to include working with testing the Cooperative Engagement Capability–also a Raytheon product–and Link 16 with the Navy’s Desert Ship and at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The Defense Department has yet to obligate some $40 million in reprogrammed funds from a June 2011 Secretary of Defense direction for the JLENS system to participate in a  Combatant Command Exercise.