The North American
Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is leading a three-year operational exercise
with the U.S. Army’s JLENS at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), MD, beginning in fiscal
year 2015 and ending 30 September 2017. The
operational exercise will demonstrate the capability to integrate JLENS into
NORAD’s air defense architecture to detect, track and identify potential air
threats to the greater Washington DC area.
leverages proven aerostat technology with a cutting-edge radar to provide elevated
situational awareness. It conducts radar
surveillance and provides precise location data against airborne targets, such
as cruise missiles, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, and large-caliber
rockets, as well as maritime surface moving targets. The JLENS consists of two unmanned aerostats
with radar systems. Each radar system
employs a separate 74-meter (243 feet long) tethered aerostat, a mobile mooring
station, radar and communications payloads, a processing station, and
associated ground support equipment. The
JLENS aerostat will fly at an altitude up to 10,000 feet above sea level,
giving it a much longer detection range than ground-based radars and providing
radar coverage up to 340 miles, an area which includes the National Capital
Region (NCR). The aerostats will fly 24
hours a day, except in times of severe weather or required maintenance, providing
radar coverage of the assigned areas.
The JLENS radars
are similar to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial aviation radars
that track and identify aircraft and direct commercial aviation to
airports. The JLENS aerostat flights
will be coordinated with the FAA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
and will adhere to all federal safety standards. The system will only operate when aloft and it
poses no radiation or other dangers to the public or the environment.
aerostats cannot see people and do not have cameras onboard. They are filled with helium and air, which are
inert gases that do not burn. In
thirty-five years of testing, a tether break has never occurred. During the
exercise, great care is being taken to protect APG's sensitive wetlands, flora
and fauna – in particular the bald and golden eagles – both during site construction
and during the exercise. The JLENS
adheres to all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.
The first JLENS radar
is expected to be airborne in mid-December 2014, followed approximately six
weeks later by the second radar. During
the three-year exercise window, JLENS capabilities will be fully explored in a
real-world environment as part of the NORAD air defense architecture to
evaluate operational utility in support of NORAD’s homeland defense mission.
The JLENS is a key
contributor to joint air and cruise missile defense capability objectives. It can extend the air defense umbrella of
protection over population centers, critical infrastructure, and military
assets, enabling ways to improve our national security. The JLENS wide area surveillance capability
should increase decision time available to respond efficiently and accurately
for the defense of the NCR.
operators and their families will be assigned to APG to support the
exercise. The soldiers have received very
comprehensive, months-long training, and are well prepared to operate the
system at Aberdeen.
Ground was chosen as the exercise location because it provides coverage over the
NCR, has sufficient ground area for the two JLENS aerostat sites, and controls
its FAA approved restricted airspace, which supports the exercise without
interfering with the mid-Atlantic coast air traffic corridors.
The data collected
during the operational exercise will be used to assess JLENS capabilities and its
integration into the existing homeland defense arhitecture. This will enable senior defense officials to
support a determination whether to transition JLENS capabilities to an enduring
mission at the conclusion of the three-year operational exercise.