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FACTSHEET | Dec. 4, 2014

Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS)

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.

JLENS Description
The JLENS 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.                                                                            

The JLENS 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.

Approximately 130 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.

Aberdeen Proving 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.