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U.S. Army Aerostat Program Proceeds; Deployment Uncertain

Aug. 14, 2012 - 10:54AM   |  
By PAUL McLEARY   |   Comments
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Despite uncertainty over when, where and if the U.S. Army’s longest-running aerostat developmental program will be deployed, the service has graduated its first two classes of soldiers trained to operate the platform.

The Army has trained about 100 soldiers from A Battery, 3rd Air Defense Artillery stationed at Dugway Proving Grounds, south of Salt Lake City, to operate the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS), which has been designed for the long-range tracking of threats in the air, at sea and on the ground.

The Army has been developing the program since 1998, and Raytheon has been working on JLENS since 2005. Given recent successful tests of its tracking and fire control systems, the company’s JLENS program director, Mark Rose, said that Raytheon is eager to “get the system deployed to a location and get some operational tests in the field. We think this system is ready to go, we’ve proven it in tests and the soldiers are trained up. So we’d like to have that operational assessment so there’s no question as to how it’s working.”

However, it appears the Army has changed its mind on plans to field one of the systems to a combatant commander, at least until 2014.

In a June reprogramming request sent to Capitol Hill, the Army wrote that despite budgeted plans to deploy an orbit to a combatant command, it has decided to delay any deployment “until after the JLENS program completes the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase in FY 2014.”

An orbit consists of a fire control radar system and a wide-area surveillance radar system connected by a ground control station. Each radar system requires a separate 74-meter tethered aerostat to provide 360-degree, wide-area surveillance and precision target tracking.

The $40 million slated for the deployment will be used for other, unnamed requirements.

In April, Raytheon successfully demonstrated the system’s ability to work with the Patriot missile defense system when JLENS tracked and shot down a test target simulating a hostile cruise missile during an exercise at the Utah Training and Test Range.

The test was significant, as the program was coming out of a Nunn-McCurdy funding breach brought about when the Pentagon reduced the number of JLENS orbits from 16 to two.

The Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which plans on keeping a busy schedule through the rest of the year, will discuss the program later this month.

Rose said the company is scheduled to test JLENS with the U.S. Navy’s “Desert Ship” at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., this fall.

“We’re going to fly a drone, a cruise missile surrogate, cue the Aegis system and they’ll try and intercept it with a standard missile,” he said. He added that the Army will continue running evaluations and training soldiers to operate the system this fall and into next year.

“Now that the soldiers are taking over, it’s another indication that the system is ready to deploy,” he said. Now the company has to convince the Army and congressional appropriators of that.

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