Gunshots help deflate runaway military blimp in Pennsylvania

29 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Look. Up in the sky!.

Pentagon officials are investigating what caused a 250-foot surveillance blimp to break from its mooring at a military base in Maryland on Wednesday and float 150 miles before crashing in rural Pennsylvania. The high-tech blimp – which is designed to detect missile attacks – caused electrical outages for thousands of residents as its tether hit power lines along its three-and-a-half-hour journey. — State police used shotguns Thursday to deflate a wayward surveillance blimp that broke loose in Maryland before coming down into trees in the Pennsylvania countryside.

Army lofted a sensor laden, 240-foot blimp into the sky northeast of Baltimore in December, it told Americans that the system was the latest and greatest tool for defending the capital region from airborne threats. The 240-foot helium-filled blimp, which had two fighter jets on its tail, came down in at least two pieces Wednesday near Muncy, a small town about 80 miles north of Harrisburg, the state capital. The military was in the process of gathering up some 6,000 feet of tether, and the blimp’s tail section could be removed Thursday afternoon, said U.S. The rampage proved an apt analogy—and possibly an appropriate death knell—for a runaway program that some Army leaders have unsuccessfully tried to kill for years.

US Army Captain Matthew Villa said that while authorities were able to remove sensitive electronics that were onboard, it could take weeks to remove the entire aircraft. The 17-year, $2.7 billion dollar Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, better known as JLENS, was supposed to provide an around-the-clock eye in the sky over an area the size of Texas. But plagued by both hardware and software problems, JLENS instead provided patchy surveillance that experienced problems communicating with the Pentagon’s larger air defense systems.

A Pentagon report in 2012 rated its reliability as “poor.” A year later the same Pentagon technology evaluators again said the blimp showed “poor system reliability.” The Army spent its first $292 million on its super blimp in 1996, awarding a consortium led by defense contractor Raytheon the cash to begin developing systems capable of providing around the clock intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Two F-16s were scrambled from a National Guard base in New Jersey to track the big, white craft as it floated away because aviation officials feared it would endanger air traffic.

By November 2005 the Army’s blimp investment topped $1.3 billion as it committed to buy more than two dozen airships (although commonly called blimps, the JLENS is actually an aerostat because it is tethered to the ground— when not rampaging across the countryside). He said the investigation is considered “Class A,” a label applied to an event that might have caused at least $2 million in property damage; involved a destroyed, missing or abandoned Army aircraft or missile; or caused injury.

The other then focuses in narrowly on objects designated as threats by its partner, providing the “fire control” data—things like speed and trajectory—that pilots or missile batteries use to target airborne threats. A second blimp at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland will be grounded until the military inspects it and completes its investigation into the unmooring. Army’s Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle aimed to develop an unmanned, untethered airship that would provide overhead surveillance to ground troops without having to regularly refuel like conventional drones. But Raytheon managed to rescue the program by lobbying the Defense Department to keep the blimps alive using Pentagon research and development funds to cover what the Army would not.

Times investigation found that during both the Aberdeen exercise and sensor trials conducted in Utah that JLENS has had trouble tracking and identifying flying objects and suffers software glitches that hamstring its ability to communicate with the nation’s air defense networks. It’s unclear if Wednesday’s episode will finally kill the Army program the Army couldn’t kill (Raytheon declined to comment on the status of the program).

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