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Oh, the humanity! Army to deploy military blimps

Thu, 07/25/2013 - 11:02am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

The military is going decidedly low-tech with its latest experiment – blimps. The Army’s anti-missile blimp system, JLENS, will make its way to the East Coast next year.

The high-tech/low-tech radar system can detect cruise missiles, light planes, drones, boats and vehicles on the ground, and the “aerostats” completed a successful test in June at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.

According to the Military Times, the goal in deploying these blimps to the East Coast – as opposed to a mostly barren Utah – is to simulate a high-traffic area akin to a combat zone.

“You have boats, planes, all kinds of traffic there; it should be a good test of the blimps,” said Douglas Burgess of Raytheon. “From the ground, radars are limited in their vantage, but up in the air you can see for tremendous distances.”

The blimp system – two of them, to be exact – supports both a wide-area and precise radar. JLENS can stay aloft for 30 days, while ground supports provide it with power and communications, not to mention stability.

Naturally, with the NSA revelations making us all jumpy (and a bit paranoid), the first inclination with something like this is to assume it’ll spy on us – especially with the blimps’ relatively low flight ceiling (10,000 feet). But Burgess can at least assure motorists that JLENS won’t catch them speeding.

“Radars can only read license plates in Will Smith movies,” Burgess said.

With the blimps tethered directly above population centers, the FAA will undoubtedly have to issue another warning to nuts who like to shoot firearms at random flying objects. Earlier this month, the FAA stated the blatantly obvious – shooting guns at drones endangers the public and could get you prosecuted.

The Army will deploy its JLENS blimp system to Baltimore in September 2014.

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