Blimp unmooring prompts scrutiny of Pentagon program

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Congress probing how massive surveillance blimp went rogue.

The powerful leaders of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday fired off letters to the secretaries of Defense and Transportation seeking information about the runaway blimp that wreaked havoc when it became untethered and floated north for about 140 miles. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the rogue blimp, part of a $2.7 billion Pentagon system designed to detect missiles and other airborne threats, raised concerns about the program, known as JLENS. “This event raises questions about the value and reliability of JLENS, which also failed to detect a gyrocopter as it approached, and eventually landed, on the West Lawn of the U.S.

Shortly after noon on Wednesday, the massive, unmanned blimp, nearly the length of a football field, broke lose from its tether at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, setting off mayhem and ridicule as it gently floated north into Pennsylvania. The event even made it into the Republican presidential debate Wednesday evening, when candidate Mike Huckabee called the blimp, known as an aerostat, a “bag of gas” and said it symbolized the failures of government.

The system, manufactured by Raytheon, is on a three-year test run to see whether it can help detect cruise missiles or enemy aircraft from 10,000 feet above ground. Like many highly technical defense programs, JLENS has suffered “cost increases and schedule delays due to setbacks in development,” according to the Government Accountability Office. In their letter, Chaffetz and Cummings noted that the blimp disrupted flight patterns “and endangered people on the ground.” And they demanded a trove of information, from contracts to documents relating to reliability and test results.

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