The US Army is set to begin testing its blimp-like surveillance airships, designed to help the military detect and destroy cruise missiles from attacking the nation’s capital and other East Coast cities.
The blimps at the center of the tests in Maryland are unmanned, 80-yard long, helium-filled aircraft that can float up to 10,000 feet in the air. At that height – a third of the cruising altitude for commercial airliners – they will patrol the skies above major East Coast cities for three years.
During the testing, one aircraft – also called an aerostat – will scan in an area from New York to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and as far west as central Ohio. The other blimp will carry radar to help the military on the ground pinpoint targets.
The system is called JLENS, short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System. The radar is used to spot missiles or “swarming boats” filled with explosives from as far away as 340 miles. The army said the blimps won’t carry weapons, as enemy missiles would be destroyed by air-, ground- or ship-based weapons.
"We can defeat cruise missiles but we have limited capability to detect. And so, with an elevated sensor, such as JLENS, and the ability to look out over the horizon, now we have the ability to detect and to enable our systems to defeat cruise missiles," Maj. Gen. Glen Bramhall, commander of the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense, told The Associated Press.