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It is extremely unfortunate that one of the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) aerostats broke free from its mooring yesterday during testing in extreme weather conditions. The aerostat did not deflate properly and as quickly as intended to bring the blimp back down on the U.S. Army base of Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. An investigation on the causes of the detachment needs to be thorough and extensive to evaluate the reasons for the free release of the JLENS from its mooring and its failure to deflate as required.

The JLENS program, consisting of two aerostats for air defense situational awareness in the National Capital Region, is in a two year testing phase where the system is stressed at its limits to better understand possible failure points. A few of those failure points happened yesterday afternoon and the country is very fortunate that the free floating blimp came down in an unpopulated area in Pennsylvania and no one got hurt.

The upcoming decisions on JLENS by the U.S. government will have to weigh the confidence in the proposed solutions to what failed, the risk of having it happen again, the cost to repair or replace the aerostat and salvage the expensive radar inside the blimp, and the delay to the current testing schedule to validate the system. JLENS remains a remarkable system in its sensor technology and potential capability for the defense of the National Capital Region. But if the JLENS cannot be assured to stay tethered or deflate automatically should the tether break, then it simply should not be deployed or made operational. Abandoning the JLENS program should these efforts to fix the system seem unattainable or perhaps unaffordable would still require the U.S. government to develop, test and eventually deploy another solution for the 360-degree air defense of the National Capital Region.

It is vital that the U.S. government continues to test systems such as the JLENS and others in its development phases to assure safety, quality and consistency of capability before deploying and operationalizing these new systems and approaches to solving complex problems. Test failures, accurate evaluation, problem solving and reengineering to test again and again is the bedrock of delivering a reliable system that our war fighters can have confidence in and our enemies are deterred by.

We as a nation in today’s complex evolving world must not lose sight of the cruise missile threat to the United States and its allies, which is real and proliferating. FAA and ground-based radars cannot provide the 360-degree persistent situational awareness of low and slow, cruise missile and UAV threats.

Riki Ellison
Chairman and Founder
Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance

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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.