WASHINGTON — After breaking free from its mooring station and taking a destructive trip through the skies of Pennsylvania in October, Congress is cutting funding for the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) by $30 million in its fiscal 2016 defense spending bill released Wednesday.
The cut leaves just $10.5 million in the account that funds JLENS. According to the bill, the cut was made due to a "test schedule delay."
The Raytheon-made JLENS system consists of both a fire-control system aerostat and a surveillance aerostat, and was undergoing a three-year operational exercise at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
The system is capable of tracking swarming boats and vehicles, and detecting and tracking cruise missile threats. It can "see" all the way from Norfolk, Virginia, into Boston. The exercise was meant to decide JLENS' fate — whether to that is keep the system permanently moored in Maryland and whether the Army decides to buy more than just the two systems it now has.
Now JLENS' fate is squarely in question after one of its two aerostats broke away and traveled across Pennsylvania causing several large power outages by hitting power lines with its long tether. It's theorized the JLENS aerostat's auto-deflation device did not work correctly, which would have brought the blimp down quickly in the event it became detached from its mooring.
An investigation is still ongoing that is looking into what caused the aerostat to escape and why it did not deflate and land quickly once it had broken free.
The second aerostat that is part of the system at Aberdeen is grounded pending the results of the investigation. A second JLENS system is in storage.