Two surveillance blimps with monitoring capabilities that extend from Raleigh, N.C. to the shores of Lake Erie will go airborne in October.
The aerostats — lighter-than-air craft that are tethered to the ground — are to be set aloft on for a three-year test, says the Washington Post. They will look for cruise missiles or enemy aircraft so they could be intercepted before reaching Washington, DC.
Aerostats have been deployed by the military at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the Post, to track the movements of suspected insurgents and even U.S. soldiers.
According to the Post, the Army said it has “no current plans” to mount such cameras or infrared sensors on the aerostats or to share information with federal, state or local law enforcement, but it declined to rule out either possibility. The radar system that is planned for the aerostats will be capable of monitoring the movement of trains, boats and cars, the Army said.
The Army determined it did not need to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment, required for some government programs, said the Post, because it was not going to collect any personally identifiable information, officials said in their written responses to the Post.
“The primary mission . . . is to track airborne objects,” the Army said and the Post reported. “Its secondary mission is to track surface moving objects such as vehicles or boats. The capability to track surface objects does not extend to individual people.”
The aerostats planned for Maryland will have radar capable of detecting airborne objects from up to 340 miles away, said the Post, and vehicles on the surface from up to 140 miles away — as far south as Richmond, as far west as Cumberland, Md., and as far north as Staten Island.
The system planned for Maryland is called JLENS, short for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, according to the Post, the total development costs for JLENS is $2.7 billion, and the technology is provided by Raytheon, the prime contractor on the project.