- - Monday, July 14, 2014


The trends in dramatically reduced defense spending seem counter to the realities of the world. With the vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, ISIS has emerged along with a multitude of terrorist organizations across the Middle
East and Africa. What’s worse is that they now have resources and an
attitude to attack and fight. The infamous “M” of the Bond series
appropriately remarked that they “live in the shadows” from which they

Unfortunately when it comes to creative terrorists, a Bond fiction is
often closer to reality than anyone likes to admit. Fortunately, the
U.S. has emerging technologies just as innovative to bring the threat
out of the shadows. One such system is Joint Land Attack Cruise
Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensors System or JLENS. It literally
eliminates the radar shadows that terrestrial systems face by
elevating the radar and other sensors in an aerostat that can detect,
track, target, and help defeat threats, including cruise missiles,
manned and unmanned aircraft, and surface moving targets, including
swarming boats. Unlike most other airborne systems, JLENS is affordably
persistent and can stay airborne for 30 days with 360-degree, 24
hour/day coverage.

Demonstrated performance highlights that JLENS is not struggling
technically nearly as much as it is politically. Recently, Congress
cut $25 million from its next assignment, a real-world demonstration of its
capabilities high overhead Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland where
its eyes will protect the National Capitol Region. Advertised as a
demonstration, employment of JLENS will confront one of the busiest
flight environments and most valued real-estate in the world. No doubt
the Army and contractor team will learn more about the system and the
concept of operations. Those lessons can then be folded back into the
system and operational plans, but again the budgetary and force
structure must have room for this critical new innovative capability.

The long-term outlook is more uncertain. Our capitol is not the only
region we must protect; does anyone really think that other systems
like AWACS, JSTARS and Global Hawk are able to fill the need? I have
flown AWACS, was responsible for the execution of Global Hawk
missions, and had numerous commands while at JSTARS.  These platforms,
while capable to perform both strategic and tactical reconnaissance,
are 911-type platforms that respond to crises around the world by
providing focused strategic reconnaissance, with the primary missions
to support the execution of the tactical air and ground operations.
They were not designed for nor were they on station to provide
strategic warning prior to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center in 2001; they were tasked afterward.  So now, almost 13 years
later, the United States has not deployed a system to provide the
necessary persistent strategic reconnaissance required to protect the
country from another 9/11.

In any budget environment fielding a new capability is a challenge.
Compared to the legacy systems that literally have an army of
supporters, the new systems rely on the vision of the leaders to look
into the future and analyze the threats and field systems before they are
really needed. In the case of JLENS we can bring the threats out of
the shadows and build our strategic awareness capabilities now. It is
critical for the defense of our country that Senate appropriators
reverse the House decision to cut $25 million from the JLENS program
and restore the $54 million planned for 2015 when the committee
unveils its defense spending bill next week.

The next vital step will come in 2016 when JLENS must survive the
budget battles and force structure trades as the nation draws down the
defense budget and the Army struggles to determine the content and
quantity of its forces.  Further at jeopardy in this budget battle is
a second JLENS system that is available today for strategic deployment
to either support a critical Combatant Commander’s area of
responsibility, or to protect an additional American city, like New
York.  The time is now for the U.S. to address vital strategic awareness
and defense capabilities that can counter the ever-emboldened threat
from terrorist attacks.

Brian Searcy is a retired Air Force Colonel and former JSTARS commander.

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