The U.S. Army has completed the second and final early user test of an aerostat-based air defense system, paving the way for it to be moved to the Washington capital region for a three-year operational evaluation to begin in 2014.
The Army has yet to report on the results of the six-week trial of the Joint Land-Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor (), but developer says the system received “high marks” when being operated and maintained by soldiers.
JLENS comprises two 74-meter aerostats that operate at 10,000 ft. altitude for up to 30 days, one carrying a 360-deg. surveillance radar, the other a fire control radar to provide target tracking and illumination for surface-to-air missile systems.
In 2012, production plans were canceled and JLENS was reduced to a development-only program involving two systems, or “orbits.” One of these was used for the second early user test (EUT 2) at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR).
EUT 2 had two phases, the first involving an endurance test in which the aerostats stayed aloft at altitude for 20 days to evaluate the system’s stability and reliability. Previously the system had not been operated for extended periods, says Doug Burgess, Raytheon’s JLENS program manager.
The second phase covered 21 different mission scenarios against surrogate targets. JLENS is designed to detect, track and target cruise missiles, unmanned aircraft, swarming boats and short-range ballistic missiles among other targets, he says.
There were some system aborts during EUT 2, Burgess says, “but not as many as we have seen before. We have fixed almost all of them, and the remaining handful will be resolved by the end of development in September.”
Running from May 4 to June 14, EUT 2 was intended to determine whether the system is ready for deployment. Soldiers who operated JLENS at UTTR will accompany the “Orbit 1” system when it moves to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., for the operational evaluation.
Plans call for setup and checkout at Aberdeen to begin in spring 2014, with operations in support of capital area air-defense to begin in September 2014. Results from the three-year evaluation are expected to feed into an Army decision on whether to procure the system.
JLENS Orbit 2 is at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where the fire-control portion of the system is being used in exercises while the surveillance element is partially packed away. “The future of the system is in discussion,” Burgess says.