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This article was Originally Published on Jun 25, 2004 in Volume: 3  Issue: 2

Boost for Cruise Missile Defense

JLENS, a theater-based sensor system that deploys tethered aerostats, moves to accelerated development.

By Mickey McCarter

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Also Read: Heliums Free Ride

The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (JLENS), an Army cruise missile defense system, entered a new phase of its existence in January, when a program review cleared the system for a boost by a defense acquisition board in its next milestone.

The defense acquisition board review is expected to launch JLENS, a theater-based sensor system that deploys tethered aerostats to detect land-attack cruise missiles, as a major defense acquisition program, designating it as eligible for expenditures above $355 million for research, development, test and evaluation, or $2.1 billion for procurement.

The program endorsement, conducted by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), officially approved the operational requirements and mission statements of the program, which gained added interest in the wake of Iraqi use of cruise missiles during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The JROC move cleared the way for the defensive system to soon become an acquisition category I program, said Colonel Kurt Heine, JLENS program manager.

“We have been clanging around since ‘96 and we’ve finally gotten ourselves forward,” Heine said. “We are funded, and we have an approved requirement.”

The approval follows on the heels of a program decision memorandum that awarded JLENS more money to accelerate development of its cruise missile defense platforms. The memorandum, signed last December, recognizes JLENS as a program worthy of advanced development.

“Because of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there were some cruise missiles fired from Iraq, and interest in cruise missile defense basically was renewed,” Heine explained.

Commercial Aerostats

JLENS falls under the command of the program executive office of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC).

The program’s mission as to “provide over-the-horizon, land-attack cruise missile defense; enhance cruise missile detection; and provide extended engagement ranges to support the air-directed surface-to-air missile (ADSAM) and air-directed air-to-air missile (ADAAM) engagement concepts for current air defense weapons such as Patriot Advanced Capabilities (PAC-3), AEGIS/standard missile and the advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), and future air defense weapon systems such as the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) and the surface-launched advanced medium range air-to-air missile (SLAMRAMM),” according to an SMDC white paper.

These goals are accomplished with aerostats that can float up to 15,000 feet above sea level, Heine said. The aerostats are commercial off-the-shelf platforms manufactured by Columbia, MD-based TCOM.

“I don’t get too excited about the platform, other than to say that aerostats nowadays are not like the Hindenburg,” Heine said. “The materials that are used are very modern. They are filled not with hydrogen, but with helium, an inert gas. They are very hard to see on radar. They are very hard to shoot down, because they are in fact lighter than air. If you put a hole through one, they don’t fall to the ground.”

Army tests have demonstrated that the aerostats will withstand large-caliber ammunition and rocket attacks up to a point, Heine noted. Punching holes in the aerostat allows the helium within the platform to escape, which causes the aerostats to sink. A large aerostat takes several hours to fall, however, providing users plenty of time to recover the sensors and other equipment onboard.

Plans for the first block of the program call for two aerostats, one to carry fire-control radar and another for surveillance radar. The Army is utilizing a spiral-development approach to accomplish this goal, Heine said. The target of the first spiral is the construction of a demonstration radar on a 37-meter aerostat around fiscal 2005.

The second spiral results in a radar system compliant with the stated objectives of the program. The JLENS program office plans to produce two 71-meter aerostats, carrying the fire control and surveillance radars, ready for contingency deployment in fiscal 2008. The office plans for a final fully equipped unit in fiscal 2010.

“Our original schedule was to have the first unit equipped in [2012], but through the acceleration process, we pulled it back two years,” Heine noted.

The undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology originally established the JLENS program office in 1996 as the Joint Aerostat Project Management Office. In 1998, the program took the name JLENS, and SMDC awarded an initial $300 million to Raytheon as major system integrator. At the time, the Army estimated the total value of the entire program could reach $1.6 billion. Raytheon selected subcontractors that included TRW (now part of the Northrop Grumman), Mercury Computer, Hewlett Packard and TCOM.

SMDC, headquartered in Arlington, VA, is the Army service component command to U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM). SMDC supports the JLENS program office in Huntsville, AL, while the Raytheon JLENS program office is in Bedford, MA.

“We have a good working relationship with Raytheon,” Heine said. “We have not been able to find another piece of equipment that is going to be able to do this job; therefore, they have become a sole source to us for this particular phase of the program.”

Leveraging Interoperability

The JLENS program office and contractors leverage the works of other defense programs when possible. JLENS has built its radars from the technical accomplishments of Army ground-based radar programs and Navy SPY-3 technologies, Heine said, thus mitigating risk and reducing development costs.

SMDC sets the range of the JLENS surveillance radar at 320 kilometers (km), and the range of the fire control radar at 250 km. The JLENS system design incorporates interoperability with the Navy’s Cooperative Engagement Capability and the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, delivering information to different military commands in a form each can best use.

Heine’s office includes deputies representing the Army, Navy and Air Force. Each deputy provides Heine with service input to maximize interoperability and enable smooth communications between various program offices throughout the military.

“For example, I have memorandums of understanding with various Navy program managers for various Navy systems,” Heine said. “The bottom line is that this system would not be fielded unless it was interoperable in a joint environment. We have to be able to talk to Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force assets. To do that, we need their help to facilitate the kind of dialogue that we need for the various services so that we can do that.”

The JLENS program mission targets protection of deployed forces, Heine emphasized. His assignment is to provide an interoperable system that will serve the interests of joint forces. Such missions would also likely involve the protection of allied forces, he noted, but the initial goals of the program do not support a role in homeland security.

“It’s certainly the kind of asset that you would use for homeland defense, but my mission right now is to get this ready to deploy with Army units,” Heine said.

Raytheon stresses that JLENS enables the allocation of manned aircraft to support different critical missions. The program makes a significant contribution to the integrated air picture while supporting secondary missions, including attack operations, combat identification and communications relays, according to a company statement.

“JLENS provides the long endurance (up to 30 days on station), over-the-horizon detection and tracking capability required to defeat the proliferating cruise missile threat,” the company said. “This cost-effective system complements fixed-wing assets and reduces the pace of aircrew missions.”

JLENS provides enormous value through its ability to fulfill such secondary roles, Heine added. The aerostats also support command and control systems outside of cruise missile defense.

“We can assist in targeting the enemy in attack operations,” he said. “For example, because it is a radar, we can help locate incoming fire and go back to the source of that fire. We can also provide communications range extension because, as an elevated platform, we can carry various radios and sensors aboard that can help reduce the number of communications nodes you need on the ground. You can get longer legs from that altitude.”

Accelerated Development

Originally, the development of JLENS called for three blocks. With the acceleration of the program, however, blocks one and two have essentially been combined. The second block included the development of a second aerostat to carry the surveillance radar, but now block one includes the construction of both surveillance and fire-control radar systems.

“Another thing that happens in block two is that a lot of our objectives become thresholds,” Heine explained. “For example, in block one my threshold might be to have a racecar to go 80 miles per hour, but my objective is to have it go 120 miles per hour. In block two, that objective becomes my threshold, so I have to make it go 120 miles per hour. There are a number of things in the requirement. There are various targets that I have to meet and turn thresholds into objectives.”

Heine would not elaborate on the specifics of what those objectives are, but he did note that Fort Bliss, TX, a key JLENS test site, has requested the addition of the third block of the program. The third phase would include moving away from a tethered solution to the use of a medium- or high-altitude airship.

“The reason is obviously is that we want them to be more responsive,” Heine said. “We want them to be even more deployable than they are today. We want them to be more versatile and perhaps more agile. That’s why we are moving to an untethered solution down the road.”

Helium’s Free Ride

For more than 75 years at its Akron, OH, business unit, Lockheed Martin has continuously advanced lighter-than-air technology to a position where the next-generation persistent surveillance system—the High Altitude Airship (HAA)—will be untethered and operating at 65,000 feet.

“The ‘free’ lift afforded by helium makes lighter-than-air surveillance systems very cost effective. Their day-to-day operational costs are low, and they put an unmanned, persistent surveillance asset above the fight, keeping soldiers out of harm’s way and effectively taking the high ground where the landscape is flat,” said Dan Howard, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Akron.
Currently under development by Lockheed Martin in an agreement with the Missile Defense Agency, the HAA’s performance goals are to fly at 65,000 feet, stay on station for at least 30 days, carry 4,000 pounds of mission payload, and operate in a relative geostationary position. At 65,000 feet, the HAA will have a 700-mile surveillance footprint, providing an effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. The airship can be relocated as required and can be recovered for maintenance or payload change-out.

Since 1991, Lockheed Martin has been the systems integrator and operations and maintenance provider for the Air Force’s Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) network along the U.S./Mexico border. The standard TARS site uses the Lockheed Martin-designed 420K (420,000 cubic feet) tethered aerostat with its L-88 radar in support of air sovereignty and counter-drug operations.

The network also employs two smaller aerostats, of 275K, at Cudjoe Key, FL. One 275K uses Lockheed Martin’s new lightweight L-88(V)3 radar for surveillance missions, while the other is the broadcast platform for TV-Marti.

In early 2004, the Army awarded Lockheed Martin a contract to deliver a 56K aerostat for deployment in Baghdad. The tethered 56K aerostat will operate at 2,500 feet and carry 500 pounds of mission payload in defense of ground forces and high-value assets.

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