Later this year, two blimps will float 10,000 feet over the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland as a new defence system for the nation’s capital, reports CBS News.
Known as JLENS, or Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defence Elevated Netted Sensor System, these blimps are designed to protect against cruise missiles fired from ships offshore.
The launch of the blimps comes as debates about an “extraordinarily expensive” East Coast missile defence shield languish in Congress.
Smaller version of the JLENS worked in Afghanistan and Iraq for exterior surveillance of bases, so it would become yet another piece of war equipment to see duty over U.S. borders.
David Martin of CBS raises the almost obvious privacy issues:
But those same blimps can also be outfitted with radars capable of tracking vehicles on the ground and with cameras that can watch people, much like blimps already do at U.S. bases in Afghanistan and along the border with Mexico. That would give government the ability to follow American citizens as they go about their daily lives.
Martin is referring to the SAR — or synthetic aperture radar — attachment, which gives a frighteningly detailed image.
Regardless of the privacy concerns, it may be worth using existing systems when the alternative is something expensive, or possibly worse yet, nothing at all.
“As it stands today, we have practically zero capability to detect it [short range tactical cruise missile threats], much less defend against it,” one military officer said of the cruise missile threat to CBS.
The pair of 74-foot-high tethered airships are equipped with Raytheon radar systems that are said to be at the surveillance ability of five spy planes — but with half the manpower and at a cost of 700 per cent less.
These radars are capable of searching for hundreds of miles to detect the launch of a cruise missile and can quickly relay the data to interceptor defence missiles positioned around Washington. The blimps can remain aloft and fully operational for up to 30 days.
“If you’re a commander, you want as much advance warning as possible,” retired Army Brig. Gen. Keith McNamara, told Raytheon. “You need to know where those missiles came from as quickly as possible so you can neutralize that launcher and prevent it from firing again.”
The U.S. military has been using blimps since the 1920s and currently flies blimps above the Mexican border and American bases in Afghanistan. Those blimps are outfitted with cameras and radars capable of tracking vehicles and people.
Government officials insist they do not plan to put cameras on theses blimps, reports CBS News.
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