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The Military Government United States Politics

Don't Worry, That Blimp Isn't Watching You Much 43

According to the Baltimore Sun, and despite claims by its maker Raytheon that the system is "performing well right now," the expensive tethered-blimp observatory called JLENS (for "Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System") seems to be mostly a boondoggle. The report focuses on the JLENS installation that was launched in Maryland last year. The Sun makes much of the flight taken by disaffected postal worker Douglas Hughes last April to the White House lawn, directly in the JLENS observation area -- the success of which (to be charitable) casts doubt on the effectiveness of the flying observatory system. Beyond its evidently low utility in doing its job, JLENS seems to be a brittle system, amplying its potential costs as well as its military vulnerability with grand, expensive failures as well as everyday difficulties: in 2010, "a civilian balloon broke loose from its mooring, destroying a grounded JLENS blimp that had cost about $182 million." The article lays out some political shenanigans, too: politicians in a wide range of states have supported the project, which has a nationwide footprint of contractors and possible deployment locations. From the article: Within the Pentagon, Marine Corps Gen. James E. "Hoss" Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came to JLENS' defense, arguing that it held promise for enhancing the nation's air defenses. At Cartwright's urging, money was found in 2011 for a trial run of the technology in the skies above Washington. Cartwright retired the same year — and joined Raytheon's board of directors five months later. By the end of 2014, Raytheon had paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock for serving as a director, Securities and Exchange Commission records show.
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Don't Worry, That Blimp Isn't Watching You Much

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  • by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @04:25PM (#50604729)
    "pork" is the spy in the sky.
    • News at 11 (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

      The US government is massively corrupt.

      From ignoring and perverting the constitution to outright blowing the revenue from taxpayers on boondoggles, we've definitely gotten the government the special interest groups and rich people have purchased.

      Yay. (waves flag feebly)

      Hey - I wonder which brown people are we going to pretend are a "real threat" to us today? "Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System" Cuz, you know, there must be camels carrying cruise missiles aimed at the USA

    • I have long maintained, that by dollar spent per enemy casualty, the US armed forces are most expensive and least cost-effective in the world. In terms of bang for the buck (pardon the expression), America is financed, overseen and managed by a collection of complete dolts. Sadly, their dumbness filters from the top downwards, so that a private has twice the common sense of a major.

      America has not formally declared a war since 1941, but has somehow managed to lose quite a few anyway - Mission Accomplished!

    • The "War Nerd" is a persona created by literature doctorate/professor John Dolan, who's thesis was analysis of Maquis De Sade's writing (the legendary smut writer who's name gave us the modern English word 'sadism'.) What John Dolan knows about military weapons systems could fit in a thimble with room left over for his brain. That's the entire reason he needs the persona; he couldn't talk about military weapon systems and be taken seriously otherwise.

  • I'm no aeronautical engineer, but when anyone mentions balloons, blimps, dirigibles, Zeppelins, etc. I think they just might be a little bit susceptible to the weather as they rely on gas bags and lighter-than-air construction to stay aloft. I'm sure Zeppelins can be a lot of fun to fly around in on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon while drinking champagne, eating oysters off the half shell and smoking a cigar, but they are hardly useful for military applications or anything requiring 24/7, 365 days per year c
    • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Saturday September 26, 2015 @07:18PM (#50605175) Homepage

      At the altitudes where such balloons normally reside, the weather is pretty stable. With no pesky land features to complicate things, the weather is mostly just influenced by whatever's already happening upwind. As for the aerostats themselves, they are surprisingly maneuverable at their normal altitudes, usually having just a few horsepower of motors turning a few small propellers. With so little air resistance, the craft can avoid inclement weather easily.

      Even if a lighter-than-air vehicle is caught in poor weather, the majority of the effects are mitigated. It's a balloon. It moves with the wind, doesn't make a good conductor, and is usually unmanned. Unlike an airplane, it's not trying to fight against the wind, so the forces on the structure are greatly reduced. In turbulence, the outer bag flexes and accommodates any stress. It might get a little shaky for the instruments, but not unreasonably so.

      Source: I used to work with some folks that now design aerostats.

      • These craft though are tethered and are only at about 10,000 ft. Sounds like the worst of both worlds to me. Cloud activity routinely reaches above 23k feet, and they're tethered so they can't escape or move with the weather. I'm sure you could design it to withstand the forces required, but given that they've spent almost $3 billion for only 4 prototypes (only two of which are currently in operation) its not looking very cost effective..

  • Its the old revolving door, I worked in the defense industry back in the late 1950's and we had a retired general or some such muckety muck running our corporation. Lots of pork even then. Never seems to change for the better, only the worst. Revolving doors for the higher ups, just look at our former Attorney General who just left for his old job defending banks. They even kept his chair warm and better yet, no banksters of note went to jail.
  • "a civilian balloon broke loose from its mooring, destroying a grounded JLENS blimp that had cost about $182 million."

    I'm sure that'll buff right out.

  • It has been my understanding that the feds have been using a tethered blimp at the extreme edge of southern Florida to detect drug runners for more than a decade. Perhaps it is now out of service but a few years back they were observing more drug boats racing for the edge of the everglades than they could hope to confront and a good number of planes dropping packages from the air as well. There was a lot of flack as the defenses were way down during popular events such as Super Bowl and Christmas m
  • I don't know which I hate more, when people do cartwheels naming a thing to make the acronym a specific word (e.g. PATRIOT Act), or when someone takes something like "Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System" and somehow decides that its acronym is "JLENS". JLACMDENSS not catchy enough? Then just call it "that fucking blimp we built".
  • There is a thing over the US that is for cruise missile defense?

    Exactly how much of a threat are those in Washington? Considering exactly none of them have ever been fired in anger at the United States, it makes me wonder.

    And what is this thing going to do about a cruise missile if it does see one? Maybe it is supposed to be connected to some kind of air defense, but the only way one of those is going to be shot down is if it is detected over the horizon.

    Of course, Raytheon wasting tax dollars on pork? Say

    • And what is this thing going to do about a cruise missile if it does see one? Maybe it is supposed to be connected to some kind of air defense, but the only way one of those is going to be shot down is if it is detected over the horizon.

      You might note that the horizon distance is highly dependent on the height of the observer over the spherical planet. [wikipedia.org] That's the whole point of putting the sensors on blimps. Once detected, engagement can be managed with a variety of weapons systems; most likely by fighter planes on short notice standby.

  • The linked Wikipedia say JLENS Unit cost is $175 million then we see the above quote "...destroying a grounded JLENS blimp that had cost about $182 million..." That looks like fact cherry picking to me.

    Even $200 million is very cheap for a movable 3km high radar tower, and if it doesn't see everything the same radar gear on the ground is going to see even less.
  • The worlds most expensive social program. If we want to keep our economy going how about we build some roads instead?
  • The blimps are deployed to protect Washington, D.C. against the Nuclear cruise missile armed Russian submarines [atlanticcouncil.org] that Putin has redeployed near the US coast - presumably as a stop-gap measure till they can build and test a new generation of ballistic missile submarines (the first of which was launched recently.) The system is designed to detect cruise missiles coming in at supersonic or high subsonic velocities; weapons with very unique and well-known sensor signatures. A system that picks up one asshole rid

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