A Giant Military Surveillance Blimp May Soon Watch Over The East Coast

By Ajit Jha on January 26, 2014 3:52 PM EST

raytheon
Raytheon's aerostat is capable of seeing incoming aircraft and missiles as far as 340 miles away. (Photo: Raytheon)

An expensive, hi-tech military surveillance system may soon be monitoring the East Coast. It comprises two giant Army blimps with the power to see 340 miles in any direction, at all times, and is expected to hover 10,000 feet above Baltimore sometime in the near future.  

Using a blimp for surveillance overcomes weaknesses of the traditional systems. Ground-based surveillances are limited by range, refueling is a challenge with Predator drones — they can't continually hover over a single place, either — and helicopters don't just fly low, but they are also loud. The giant 243-foot-long blimp, called an aerostat — officially named JLENS — is fitted with high-powered cameras and radar, and attached to the ground. It also requires little maintenance, only needing to land about once a month.

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The sensor system attached to the blimp has a high-powered video and infrared sensor called MTS-B, according to The Washington Post. A 2013 test in Utah showed that it could follow vehicles miles away, and capture a video image of a volunteer planting a fake roadside bomb.

The Army is reportedly buying two of the aerostats from their manufacturer, Raytheon, for $2.7 billion, according to Vice. The pair of aircraft, collectively called "orbit," will float — possibly by the end of the year — about two miles apart above Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is land owned by the Army. Both will have different features; while one will have a long-range radar, the other will use a higher-frequency radar. They'll both work together, with one aerostat will providing 360 degree coverage, and the other sending targeting data to the ground station. Though the Army claimed it had no plans to use the video system in Maryland as of now, there's no saying whether those plans will change in the future

The system's main objective, according to reports, is not to spy on civilians, but to spot distant enemy missiles and jets before ground-based radar can. When paired with Patriot Missiles, it can shoot nukes before they hit the ground. With a ground-vision area of 62,000 miles, it can easily spot incoming missiles and aircraft as far away as 340 miles, and vehicles that are 140 miles away on the ground. If it were to be used at an Army base in Iraq or Afghanistan, it could also be used to spot enemy threats.

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