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Blimps Help Guide Air-to-Air Missile Over Utah Desert

Two giant airships and a fighter jet made a lethal combination as Raytheon's JLENS system helped guide an air-to-air missile in a dramatic midair handoff last month.

The JLENS aerostats, or tethered airships, used powerful radars to help guide a Raytheon-built Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile fired by an F-15 jet. The missile intercepted a high-speed target that mimicked an enemy cruise missile.

The July 17 test shows that JLENS can expand the range of jets on patrol, said Dave Gulla, Raytheon’s vice president of Global Integrated Sensors.

“Integrating JLENS’ precision detection and targeting information with the combat-proven AMRAAM gives our military a new way to defend the fleet and our allies,” Gulla said.

JLENS stands for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, but the system has proven itself against all types of land, air and sea threats.� The aerostats float 10,000 feet in the air and can watch over hundreds of miles of territory at a fraction of the cost of airborne patrols.

During the test, a U.S. Army JLENS at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah detected and tracked a target that simulated an anti-ship cruise missile.

With the target locked in its sights, the aerostat’s radar relayed precise targeting data to a U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jet, allowing the pilot to confidently fire the AMRAAM.

Information from JLENS helped steer the missile until the AMRAAM’s onboard radar system could engage the target and intercept the threat.

JLENS can identify threats long before the smaller radars carried by fighter jets, and it can stay airborne for 30 days at a time.

Previous tests have demonstrated that JLENS can also expand the shield of protection by communicating with Patriot air and missile defense batteries and the Standard Missile-6, a ship-defense weapon.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army used the system to track four ballistic missile targets. It also tracked a simulated “swarming boat” attack while simultaneously watching hundreds of cars, trucks and aircraft. Attacks by small boats are a growing concern in strategic waterways.

“This test enhances the cruise missile defense umbrella,” said Dean Barten, the U.S. Army’s JLENS product manager. “When this capability is deployed, it will help save lives.”

Last Updated: 11/11/2014

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