REFILE-Blimps to bolster Washington's air shield in test

Fri Feb 1, 2013 4:08pm EST
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* Raytheon "JLENS" program could get boost

* Tethered aerostats would feed into existing defenses

* Aerostats work in pairs, may stay aloft 30 days

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - A pair of big, blimp-like craft, moored to the ground and flying as high as 10,000 feet (3,000 metres), are to be added to a high-tech shield designed to protect the Washington D.C. area from air attack, at least for a while.

The bulbous, helium-filled "aerostats" - each more than three quarters the length of a football field at 243 feet (74 meters) - are to be stitched into existing defenses as part of an exercise of new technology ordered by the Defense Department.

The coming addition to the umbrella over Washington is known as Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS. Raytheon Co is the prime contractor.

"We're trying to determine how the surveillance radar information from the JLENS platforms can be integrated with existing systems in the National Capital Region," said Michael Kucharek, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command.   Continued...