USA — Airborne radar prepped for missile defense testing

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — A new air defense radar sys­tem is under­go­ing test­ing on White Sands Mis­sile Range to ready it for lat­er inte­grat­ed test­ing with the Navy this fall.

A Joint Land Attack Cruise Mis­sile Defense Ele­vat­ed Net­ted Sen­sor Sys­tem, or JLENS, aero­stat is read­ied for launch near Oro­grande gate at White Sands Mis­sile Range, N.M. The JLENS sys­tem will be test­ing at White Sands to inte­grate the sys­tem with Navy air defense sys­tems. A sin­gle JLENS aero­stat can car­ry a sur­veil­lance radar or fire con­trol radar up to 10,000 feet allow­ing the radar to see over sur­round­ing ter­rain.
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The Joint Land Attack Cruise Mis­sile Defense Ele­vat­ed Net­ted Sen­sor Sys­tem, or JLENS, is an advanced radar sys­tem that is intend­ed for use by the Army, Air Force and Navy as part of a larg­er air and mis­sile defense net­work.

“In sim­ple terms JLENS, is an ele­vat­ed radar plat­form which is specif­i­cal­ly designed to track and defeat land attack cruise mis­siles,” said Maj. Michael Fitzger­ald an assis­tant prod­uct man­ag­er with the JLENS Prod­uct Office under Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office Mis­siles and Space.

The objec­tive of the sys­tem is to pro­vide a long range radar sys­tem that can detect small low fly­ing tar­gets like cruise mis­siles, as well as oth­er air­borne threats, so air defense sys­tems can engage them soon­er and with more accu­ra­cy.

Radar works by send­ing out radio waves into the air. When the waves hit some­thing like an air­craft, they bounce off, reflect­ing back to the radar sys­tem and allow­ing the sys­tem to deter­mine where the air­craft is. Unfor­tu­nate­ly oth­er objects like tall build­ings, hills, and moun­tains can block the radar waves and dis­rupt or lim­it that radar. Cruise mis­siles are designed to take advan­tage of this lim­i­ta­tion by fly­ing low to the ground along routes that allow them to hide behind ter­rain.

“What the Aero­stat allows you to do is get above the ground clut­ter. The whole objec­tive of this sys­tem is to pro­vide pro­tec­tion to ground assets that can­not see through moun­tains or oth­er ground clut­ter,” said Steven Stone Raytheon’s test direc­tor for JLENS Inte­gra­tion at WSMR.

Using large blimp-like bal­loons called aerostats, JLENS seeks to counter the threat of low fly­ing mis­siles and air­craft by tak­ing a pow­er­ful sur­veil­lance radar to alti­tude, allow­ing the sys­tem to look down from heights of up to 10,000 ft. and over near­by ter­rain, elim­i­nat­ing blind spots and extend­ing the range of the radar.

“The sur­veil­lance radar has a 360 degree capa­bil­i­ty, it kind of sees every­thing at once,” Fitzger­ald said.

Since the ele­vat­ed radar must look down to detect and track mis­siles and air­craft, the radar also gets back lots of data on the ground beneath the air­space it’s mon­i­tor­ing. For a nor­mal radar, this would cause a lot of inter­fer­ence that could dis­rupt oper­a­tions. JLENS ground sta­tion how­ev­er, uti­lizes advanced com­put­er sys­tems that can fil­ter out this ground clut­ter and leave the ser­vice member’s view screens with a clear image of the air they are defend­ing.

Once a tar­get has been locat­ed, a tar­get­ing radar sys­tem in a sec­ond aero­stat can then lock onto the tar­get and feed that data to air defense weapon sys­tems. These sys­tems would then be able to engage and destroy the tar­get.

“The fire con­trol radar, which is very pre­cise, can see a long dis­tance, track tar­gets, and hand off tar­gets to oth­er air defense plat­forms,” Fitzger­ald said.

To lift the radar the aerostats need to have some seri­ous lift­ing pow­er.

“The radar, the cool­ing equip­ment, and some of the oth­er elec­tron­ics asso­ci­at­ed with it are fair­ly heavy, because they are obvi­ous­ly, built to mil­i­tary stan­dards and built to han­dle a mil­i­tary envi­ron­ment threat envi­ron­ment. So there­fore it has to have enough lift to lift a fair amount of weight,” said Stone.

To achieve this lift, each aero­stat must be very large, almost the size of a foot­ball field. Vis­i­ble from WSMR’s main post, the JLENS site includes one Aero­stat, which will be inter­change­ably equipped with the sur­veil­lance or fire con­trol radar, along with the JLENS mobile moor­ing sta­tion that holds the aero­stat in place, and the ground sta­tion com­posed of a data pro­cess­ing shel­ter, a sig­nal pro­cess­ing shel­ter and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and con­trol sta­tion.

The radar’s long range, which cov­ers an area larg­er then New Mex­i­co, allows it to mon­i­tor large oper­a­tional areas, mak­ing the sys­tem valu­able to not only the Army, but the oth­er ser­vices as well. Each ser­vice has dif­fer­ent weapons and require­ments which JLENS must meet if it is to work and so exten­sive inte­gra­tion test­ing is required. For this rea­son a sin­gle JLENS aero­stat has been brought to WSMR.

Over the next few months the JLENS sys­tem com­po­nents will be checked out and its sys­tems test­ed to pre­pare it for inte­gra­tion with Naval air defense sys­tems and test­ing on WSMR.

“The weath­er, when it holds, has helped out a lot. But so far the test has been going good and we’ve been meet­ing all the objec­tives set out for us,” Stone said.

The Naval require­ments are the rea­son why WSMR was cho­sen for these tests. Along with WSMR’s expan­sive mil­i­tary con­trolled air space, WSMR’s Naval detach­ment pro­vides the right envi­ron­ment for the inte­gra­tion of this joint sys­tem into Naval oper­a­tions.

In addi­tion to the expe­ri­enced Sailors the Naval Detach­ment brings to the table, the Navy also com­mands the Desert Ship, a spe­cial­ized test bunker on WSMR that sim­u­lates a ship at sea. The Desert Ship allows tests like this to be con­duct­ed in a real­is­tic envi­ron­ment, using the same sys­tems and con­fig­u­ra­tions that a ship has, but with the con­trol and data col­lec­tion need­ed for test­ing.

As the sys­tem is still in the ear­li­er stages of devel­op­ment, at this time it is expect­ed for JLENS to be an ongo­ing pres­ence on WSMR for some time while the sys­tem is fur­ther devel­oped and test­ed.

U.S. Army