Testing of one of the US Northern Command’s US Army Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, better known as JLENS, which began north of Washington, DC in December 2014 to monitor all aircraft, ships, trucks and cars within the Washington metropolitan area within the range of two JLENS’ powerful sensors, broke loose from its tethers Wednesdayaround 12:00 AM.
The JLENS blimp had been tethered at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland when itsomehow broke free of its moorings, drifting over Pennsylvania at around 16,000 feet, according to the North American Air Defense Command.
The blimp was observed over Bloomsburg, Pa. dragging its 6,700-foot cable, which reportedly damaged area power grid infrastructure, causing power outages.
Despite the unfortunate mishap, which officials have yet to explain, the JLENS program for monitoring the East Coast around the nation’s capital remains vital to national defense, US military and intelligence officials told Homeland Security Today on background.
JLENS will — when fully deployed with its twin — be on the lookout for the movements of hostile unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles entering US airspace.
William Matthews first exclusively reported in his February, 2014 Homeland Security Today report, Sensors on a Leash, that JLENS was, “Designed nearly two decades ago to defend US troops overseas against cruise missiles and other airborne threats, this high-tech military system is being adapted for homeland defense. [This] year it’s scheduled to begin a three-year evaluation of its capabilities in a much more complicated environment – the US East Coast.
Air Force Maj. Jamie Humphries, a spokesman for US Northern Command, previously told Homeland Security Today JLENS will focus on airborne threats to the United States. Once it’s up in the air and “operationally functional” in 2015, he explained, JLENS will be plugged into the existing National Capitol Region-Integrated Air Defense System architecture to help “detect, track and identify air-breathing threats to the homeland, specifically the National Capital Region.”
JLENS is capable of “tracking everything in its field of view,” Homeland Security Today was told by Doug Burgess, JLENS program director at Raytheon, the company that developed the system. And, “There will be a large number of radar targets."
“This incident in no way diminishes the need – and safety – of using JLENS for looking for incoming potential threats to the East Coast,” one of the officials told Homeland Security Today Wednesday, noting, “the surveillance capabilities JLENS provides is both unique and cost effective. This incident should not lead to cries to shut it down … it’s another important surveillance capability for keeping Washington and the East Coast safe …"
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s office said in a statement it is aware of the situation and has been in contact with various departments and the state’s emergency management agency.
"We are closely monitoring the situation, and we will work with the appropriate authorities to respond to any resource requests and assist in any way possible," the statement read.