JLENS Inflates: A Look at the Capability


12/18/2014: Time-lapse inflation of a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) aerostat at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Dec. 14, 2014.

LENS provides national command authorities with increased situational awareness and early warning detection against possible threats.

Credit:U.S. Northern Command:12/14/14

According to the Raytheon website:

JLENS, which is short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, is a system of two aerostats, or tethered airships, 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.

 JLENS provides 360-degrees of defensive radar coverage and can detect and track objects like missiles, and manned and unmanned aircraft from up to 340 miles away. JLENS can also remain aloft and operational for up to 30 days at a time. This potent combination of persistence and capability give defenders more time and more distance to:

  • Identify potential threats
  • Make critical decisions
  • Conduct crucial notifications

JLENS allows the military to safeguard hundreds of miles of territory at a fraction of the cost of fixed wing aircraft, and it can integrate with defensive systems including:

  • Patriot
  • Standard Missile 6
  • Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile
  • National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System

One JLENS system, known as an orbit, can provide the same 24/7 coverage for a 30-day period that 4-5 fixed wing surveillance aircraft (AWACS, JSTARS or E-2C) can provide.

 Depending on the kind of aircraft used, a fixed-wing surveillance aircraft is 500-700% more expensive to operate than a JLENS during that same time period because of manpower, maintenance and fuel costs.

A JLENS orbit uses less than 50% of the manpower it requires to fly a fixed wing aircraft 

Clearly, dirigibles provide a very good alternative to UAVs for wide area coverage.

The USAF was developing an innovative system of its own called the Blue Devil which would have been a great addition to providing the kind of coalition information crucial to the fight against the ISIL.

Unfortunately, the USAF chose to cancel the program.


The centrality of coalition means that a program like the M1400 and BD-2 is extremely important. One can deploy the platform and the system, and put on board what is appropriate to a mission WITH allied or partner sensors on board without have to vet through some bizarre U.S. management process.

 Immediate operational benefit can be provided for allied engagement through mixing and matching aboard the large deck real estate of the airship and the open architecture modular ISR management architecture.

 So instead of taking 18 months to integrate a sensor aboard a Global Hawk, you can mix or match the deployment package in hours or days. This capability is central to the real missions facing U.S. forces in the years ahead.