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This week, under the leadership of USNORTHCOM Commander Admiral Gortney, the National Capitol Region (NCR) around the Washington D.C. area has added a Fire Control System (FCS) aerostat to the already existing Surveillance System (SuS) aerostat to complete the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) “Orbit,” providing complete 360 degree situational awareness and targeting data of all air breathing threats to the region. This significant addition of the FCS, equipped with an X-Band radar inside of its blimp rather than the VHF radar in the SuS blimp, has had years of successful fire control testing at Dugway proving grounds in Utah. These tests involved the full JLENS Orbit and proved early warning, tracking, and the ability to provide successful fire control data for multiple cruise missile intercepts from three different platforms: the Patriot Air and Missile Defense System, Standard Missile 6 (Aegis), and AAMRAM air-to-air missiles fired from U.S. fighter jets.

The JLENS Orbit will conduct its full trial-deployment in the NCR through September 2017. The Orbit will provide early warning of all incoming air threats from UAVs to cruise missiles and hostile/unidentified aircraft into the NCR with the capability to provide exact targeting information to intercept through shared data on Link-16 to the U.S. Air Force fighter jets carrying air-to-air missiles and land-based NASAMS surface to air missiles protecting the NCR. The system could also be configured to be linked into the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) or Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) shared data networks with the U.S. Navy to provide situational awareness and targeting data to SM-6 and SM-2 interceptors from U.S. Navy Aegis Ships in the Atlantic and a possible future Aegis Ashore site near the NCR.

Floating at 10,000 feet above sea level, the JLENS Orbit of two aerostats deployed in Aberdeen, Maryland, operated by approximately 100 U.S. Army Soldiers, can identify and target moving objects deemed as threats on land, sea and air across a vast area encircling the Washington D.C. region. This overhead capability greatly enhances what is in place and deployed today for the air situational awareness and defense of the NCR, making the Washington DC region safer than it is today.

As this JLENS system proves out, the demand for 360-degree persistent overhead situational awareness and targeting against cruise, UAV and air threats in other regions where the United States Military operates and are under airborne threat will significantly increase. The greatest demand for JLENS is at Kadena AFB in Okinawa, which houses the single largest U.S. Air Force combat wing and is in a critical strategic position in the East China Sea. A deployed JLENS Orbit at Kadena AFB would provide both a major upgrade in capability against the considerable airborne threats in the region, and make a significant strategic statement to U.S. allies, adversaries, and to China in its aggressive military expansionism of claiming and building islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. bases along the Persian Gulf and in GCC Countries would also greatly benefit from the situational awareness and targeting abilities of JLENS towards the growing Iranian cruise missile threat to the region.

The United States Army has also acquired a second JLENS Orbit, currently in storage for future use by one of the Combatant Commands once the JLENS orbit in the NCR is proven. There is however no funding for the program beyond its final testing date ofSeptember 30, 2017. Both of the Orbits have been acquired by the United States Army and have an operating cost of close to $28 million a year.

The cruise missile and UAV threats are real and will only continue to proliferate throughout the world and threaten our nation’s capital. We have to see it from above to effectively target these air-breathing threats.

It is a smart and calculated strategic move to be proactive in the development of protective measures against cruise missile and UAV threats to our nation’s capital by our NORTHCOM Combatant Commander.

Riki Ellison

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MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.