Tuesday, February 18, 2014

JLENS: Military multi-intelligence blimps to fly over East Coast US - Video

A new hi-tech, Helium-filled, inflatable, surveillance blimp is scheduled to be flown over the East coast of the US in October 2014.

JLENS, or Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defence Elevated Netted Sensor System is costing $2.7 billion in total (that's around English £1.64 billion).

The new state-of-the-art blimps will patrol the shoreline and give the US administration early warning of any cruiser missiles headed towards the border.

Currently anchored to army property in Maryland, these spy blimps claim to have some of the world's most advanced surveillance equipment on board.

The JLENS system, has been designed to spot missiles carrying explosive warheads and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) capabilities, launched from as far away as the Arctic or the Gulf of Mexico.

Deceptive capability
To give you an idea of the capabilities of these blimps and the radar technology they utilise, the floating airships can spot an object from a distance of 340 miles — that's further than the driving distance between London and Newcastle.

Flying in pairs, the blimps will offer "360 degree 24/7 surveillance for 30 days at a time" according to contractors Raytheon.

Each JLENS blimp measures 74m from front to back and hovers at an elevation of 10,000 feet, with two blimps working in tandem, one can watch out for threats while the other coordinates the interception process, should it be needed.

Missile guidance
If the US Army had to respond to an incoming missile, for example, then the blimps can be used to help guide fighter jets and their on-board arsenals towards the target, neutralising the threat much earlier and more quickly than when using conventional tracking and intercept methods.

Similar technology is used to protect American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army has assured the public that there's nothing to worry about, but privacy groups have expressed concern about the potential for the JLENS ships to track the movements of citizens.

"The primary mission... is to track airborne objects," Army officials said. "Its secondary mission is to track surface moving objects such as vehicles or boats. The capability to track surface objects does not extend to individual people."

According to the experts, details such as individual faces or car registration plates cannot be seen by the blimps even with specialised cameras fitted.

Built-in resilience
The blimps are known as aerostats, airships that are essentially lighter than air and which require tethering to the ground.

Even a well-aimed rifle shot would not be enough to bring one of the blimps down: the pressure of the helium inside is very close to the pressure of the outside air, which means rapid deflation is not possible.

"When you need persistent surveillance in a particular area, there is no better solution than the aerostat because it's there all the time,” said Ron Bendlin of TCOM, who have helped manufacture the new series of blimps.

The tethers that tie the blimps down are interesting too: they provide power to the airships and control communications to and from them via fibre optic cabling.

Each line is protected by Kevlar and an insulated sleeve. Most of the functionality of each of the blimps is managed down on the ground from the command centres.

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