JLENS Progress, Success Beg Questions on Funding


2012-09-30 by Brian Searcy

The JLENS system has once again proved that it is ready for the originally planned operational test.   The twin-aerostat configuration of a tracking radar and a fire control radar, a concept considered to be a next generation ISR program, has now demonstrated the ability to integrate with naval defense assets to detect and track multiple anti-ship sized naval targets.  The Army has also graduated its first class of JLENS technicians, providing the manpower to operate and sustain the system in the field.

JLENS was successfully integrated with the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) system and an SM-6 missile to detect, track and engage a surrogate anti-ship missile target during tests at the White Sands Missile Range in mid-September.  The ability to integrate JLENS with the Navy’s AEGIS class theater defense system has been a significant selling point for JLENS, which provides 360-degrees of persistent coverage over a 30-day period.

JLENS is a system, with a dirigible as key element of the system. Credit Photo: Raytheon

Critical to the defense of the Navy’s deployed assets, the system also showed its versatile capabilities during a September 13 exercise where it successfully detected and tracked multiple speedboats, designed to simulate a swarming boat threat typical of that expected from asymmetrical naval forces.

These two most recent successful tests come on the heels of the Army announcing that some 100 technicians had completed training on the JLENS system in June, establishing the operational and maintenance support necessary for a JLENS deployment.

Given the technical and operational success of JLENS in recent months, the fact that the Army has completed training of the required Army technicians to operate the system, and the escalating threats we face around the world, it’s puzzling why the Pentagon continues to seek the re-programming of $40 million in JLENS funding for other non-specific programs.

The re-programming is no doubt a function of planners hedging their bets in the face of potentially deep cuts in defense spending due to pending sequestration.  But with a system that consistently hits its performance benchmarks, has 100 soldiers trained and ready to take JLENS into the field, and the continued saber-rattling from Iran regarding the Strait of Hormuz, it’s hard to understand how Congress could agree to the re-programming request that will cause the de-funding of the next phase of JLENS development.

Brian Searcy is a retired Air Force colonel and former JSTARS commander.