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Pentagon Blimps a $2.7 Billion Bust

Monday September 28th, 2015   •   Posted by K. Lloyd Billingsley at 10:24am PDT   •  

department_of_defense_sealThe Pentagon deploys the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) to guard the nation from cruise missiles and other low-flying threats. JLENS primary contractor, Raytheon, says the system is proven capable and performing well right now, but as David Willman notes in the Los Angeles Times, taxpayers might have serious doubts about that.

Since 1998, the Pentagon has spent $2.7 billion on “a system of giant radar-equipped blimps” to warn of attack. But despite the lavish spending, JLENS fails to do the job. In 2012 the Pentagon rated the system “poor” in four critical performance areas and charged JLENS with “low system reliability.” JLENS has trouble tracking flying objects and difficulty distinguishing friends from foes. The blimps can be grounded by bad weather and in combat zones providing sitting ducks for enemy attack. Even in good conditions the system cannot provide continuous surveillance, and software glitches prevent it from communicating with air-defense networks.

JLENS is supposed to be particularly vigilant in the nation’s capitol region. Yet, as Willman reports, on April 15, 61-year-old postal worker Douglas Hughes flew a single-seat gyrocopter through 30 miles of restricted airspace and landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It was JLENS’s task to detect such an aircraft, but Admiral William Gortney of North American Aerospace Defense Command explained that the system was “not operational” that day and he couldn’t say when it would be.

The Army “tried to kill JLENS in 2010,” according to the Los Angeles Times report, but “Raytheon mobilized its congressional lobbyists,” who wield considerable clout. As a result, JLENS became a “zombie” program, meaning “costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill.”

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September 2015