In the dark days of expected budget sequestration, where our world contains persistent global threats from conventional enemies and terrorist groups, and where weaknesses in coastal, port and border security loom as top priorities, a new system is standing ready to augment our national defense and homeland security.
While program budgets decline, one system that is proven, fully funded and battle-ready is the JLENS platform (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System).
JLENS provides numerous strategic advantages for our military and U.S. homeland defense, allowing its use in theaters such as in the Arabian Gulf and Asia, as well as arenas requiring constant vigilance, like vital seaports and along our borders.
Better yet, it is available now for deployment, bought and paid for, but U.S. leadership must act to reap the benefits and demonstrate JLENS’ capabilities today.
But JLENS is at genuine risk of never fulfilling its mission. This year, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) commissioned a white paper detailing the JLENS system and its utility in confronting the array of threats covered here. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta read the white paper, along with correspondence from the CPD, noting efforts to reprogram JLENS funding and urging Panetta to “direct CENTCOM to carry out the planned field test of JLENS, using the funds already appropriated.” However, the media ignored the story.
The necessary funds have been appropriated for JLENS and assigned to the Pentagon, where they have stalled. Those Pentagon officials must resolve their own reprogramming issues and deploy this proven system.
So, what is to be done?
First, Congress should direct the Pentagon to use the allocated $40.3 million test funds for a JLENS test and direct U.S. Central Command to complete it as soon as possible. After a successful test, Congress and the Department of Defense need to immediately move toward series production.
These actions will answer the urgent needs of combat commanders and homeland security officials, who must provide a critical margin of security enhancements needed on the Korean peninsula, the Strait of Hormuz and key domestic areas of vulnerability, such as our main seaports, borders and other at-risk hot spots.
Never before have we derived a completed, ready-to-deploy system that has dual mission value in national defense and homeland security and that saves dollars and resources as part of the bargain.
Better yet, JLENS is able to easily integrate with existing or nascent communications and intelligence platforms.
JLENS is an elevated, persistent, over-the-horizon sensor system based on aerostats to increase battlefield area coverage against land attack cruise missiles and provide detection of enemy surface units. Unlike blimps, aerostats are tethered or anchored to the ground.
JLENS aerostats remain on station up to 30 days, and in addition to tracking and targeting missiles, the system enables combat identification and communication relays and can identify hostile land movements with 360-degree surveillance out to a considerable distance. JLENS can fly a 7,000-pound communications and radar payload up to 10,000 feet.
The system can support Patriot, Standard and Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles while also offering powerful eyes and ears to law enforcement and homeland security officials seeking to safeguard our borders, coastal infrastructure and seaports.
In June, the first class of U.S. Army soldiers completed JLENS mission operator training so the two prototypes could be deployed and tested immediately. Those soldiers learned to use JLENS to detect and target incoming cruise missiles and to track ships, cars, trucks and boats, and practiced setting up the system and communicating sensor information to Army, Navy and Air Force counterparts.
JLENS proved its worthiness when a smaller version was deployed to Afghanistan. The aerostat carried an electro-optical/infrared package to support force protection activities to provide surveillance of people who might be involved in planting improvised explosive devices.
The ability of JLENS to remain aloft and linger up to 30 days provides 24-hour radar coverage of its assigned areas, and JLENS radar systems can be transported by aircraft, railway, ship or roadway. This fact alone shows that JLENS far surpasses the limitations we encounter with replenishing aircraft and aircrews for 24-hour coverage. Just the savings in raw dollars and fuel derive enough of a difference to make JLENS one of the most cost-effective missile defense systems ever produced.
JLENS is ready right now to enhance our national defense and homeland security if it is deployed as intended.
The time for equivocation and hesitation is long past; our national security, our collective defense and our future require it.
Robert McCreight, adjunct professor at George Washington University and president of Strategic Synergies.Strategic Synergies consults on homeland security, national security and emergency management. Neither the author nor Strategic Synergies is connected with the Raytheon JLENS system.