The Army’s A Battery, 3rd Air Defense Artillery were recently certified to operate Raytheon’s [RTN] Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensors (JLENS) radar to protect the National Capital Region (NCR) from cruise missiles and drone threats.

JLENS is a system of two 74-meter aerostats, or tethered blimps, that float 10,000 feet in the air. The helium filled aerostats, each nearly as long as a football field, carry powerful radars that can protect a territory roughly the size of Texas from airborne threats.

Raytheon's JLENS Photo: Army
Raytheon’s JLENS
Photo: Army

JLENS provides 360-degrees of defensive radar coverage and can detect and track objects like cruise missiles, drones and airplanes from up to 340 miles away. One aerostat carries a surveillance radar that continuously scans 360 degrees. The other aerostat carries an X-band radar for more precise information that can put fire control quality data on a network for weapon systems.

The aerostats and their radars can remain aloft and operational for 30 days. JLENS also provides ascent phase detection of tactical ballistic missiles and large-caliber rockets.

“When JLENS deploys to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., later this year, it will provide a powerful new capability to the National Capital Region’s Integrated Air Defense System (IADS),” said Raytheon’s Dave Gulla, vice president of Integrated Defense Systems’ Global Integrated Sensors business area. “With this certification, the soldiers now possess the skills to maximize the capabilities of JLENS to help defend our country from the growing cruise missile and drone threat.”

Doug Burgess, Raytheon JLENS program director, told Defense Daily the system is in the process of being shipped to Aberdeen. “Right now, most of the components are at a staging area near APG, but there are still some elements in transit.”

At Aberdeen, the JLENS system will carry out operational tests for three years under Army direction.

Raytheon employees worked with U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and the soldiers to develop the tactics, techniques and procedures for using JLENS as part of the NCR’s Integrated Air Defense System (IADS).

Raytheon also helped prepare soldiers for the Army’s independent certification process by training them on a variety of key tasks including: using JLENS’ hydraulic winch system to raise and lower the aerostat; radar operations; equipment maintenance; initiating communication links to communicate critical information to higher echelons; and emergency procedures.

Under the process, 44 soldiers were certified.

JLENS completed developmental testing in December 2013. The system has demonstrated its ability to integrate with defensive systems and help Patriot, AMRAAM, NASAMS and Standard Missile 6 intercept cruise missile targets. Also in 2013, JLENS proved it can detect and track short-range ballistic missiles in their boost phase during a series of tests.

Since the JLENS system program began in the 1990s, the system hasn’t changed much, it meets the original requirements.

“What has changed is the way we think about and use JLENS, Burgess said. “ At the time it was originally conceived (in the 90s), it was designed to be a mobile, tactical defensive system against Soviet cruise missiles. Through the DT&E program, we have started to understand its full capabilities, not just against cruise missiles, but against drones, aircraft, surface targets like swarming boats, and even in a limited capacity against ballistic missiles. We now think of the system as a strategic asset that can remain in a fixed location for long periods of time, in large part because of its ability to conduct radar surveillance over a 340 mile radius–an area approximately the size of Texas.”

For example, moving JLENS at Aberdeen is an example of strategic emplacement. “It will be integrated into the (Integrated air Defense System) IADS of the National Capital Region, and it can defend a large portion of the East Coast…roughly from Norfolk to the lower edge of Massachusetts,” he said.

The Army bought two JLENS systems from Raytheon. The second system, also used for testing, is packed up for use as a rapidly deployable strategic asset.