Friday, January 24, 2014

A Giant Military Surveillance Blimp Is Going to Constantly Monitor the East Coast

By the end of the year, there will likely be two giant Army blimps hovering 10,000 feet above Baltimore with the ability to see 340 miles in any direction.

Most forms of surveillance have weaknesses: If they’re ground-based, they have range limitations. Predator drones have to refuel and don’t have the ability to hover in one spot. Helicopters are really loud and generally have to fly pretty low. That’s where JLENS comes in. It’s a giant, 243-foot long blimp that’s tethered to the ground. It has ridiculously powerful radar and cameras. It pretty much doesn’t have to move, and it only has to land once a month or so for quick maintenance.

Yes, that means the entire mid-Atlantic region will, at least, have the potential to be under “persistent surveillance,” a dream term for those in the intelligence biz and a worst-case scenario for those who care a lick about privacy. One aerostat that was tested in Utah last year was able to follow individual vehicles “dozens of miles away” and watch a test subject plant a fake bomb on the side of the road. According to the Washington Post, the Army has “no current plans” to use that high-powered video sensor in Maryland, but wouldn’t rule out using it in the future. 

Rumors of the Army buying a JLENS from Raytheon to put in Aberdeen, Maryland, have been swirling for a couple years now—earlier this year, Timothy Carey, then-Vice President for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance with Raytheon told me that “it depends on the day of the week” as to whether the Army wanted to go ahead and purchase one. Well, it seems they’ve made up their mind. They’re reportedly buying two blimps at a cost of roughly $2.7 billion—one will use a long-range radar and the other will use a higher-frequency radar to help target threats.

Even at $2.7 billion, the system is much cheaper than running constant Predator drones or having other manned surveillance aircraft fly in circles all day. There's still no exact date for when the blimps will start operating, and a collision in which a separate airship crashed into a JLENS last fall has delayed the program.

For the rest of the story: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/a-giant-military-surveillance-blimp-is-going-to-constantly-monitor-the-east-coast

1 comment:

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