JLENS receives Popular Mechanics award

by Sgt. 1st Class Connie E. Dickey

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 3, 1999) -- Popular Mechanics has chosen the Joint Land Attack Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System for a 2000 Design and Engineering Award.

"It was a complete surprise," Mike Grannan, deputy program manager for JLENS said. "It is a very impressive award from Popular Mechanics."

Jim Wilson, science editor with Popular Mechanics, said the magazine has followed the project for a number of years and was present at the national media presentation of the system in April. "It represented a very clever use of existing technology to solve an extremely difficult problem. It is very forward thinking," he said.

He said this year the magazine has explored about 500 new scientific and engineering projects and JLENS is one of the top three. The magazine selects awards in several categories, Wilson said, and JLENS is one of the winners in the scientific category. The other two are a new genetic engineered drug and a passive permanent magnet bearing.

In 1996 the Department of Defense selected the Army to take the lead in establishing a joint project office with the Air Force and Navy to develop a joint cruise missile defense capability. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command was given the project and the command chose Huntsville, Ala., to set up the project office.

According to Grannan, the project is presently in the radar design phase. He said the JLENS concept includes elevating the radar to 15,000 feet to increase line of site ranges and overcome the obstacle of the curvature of the earth and obstructions such as mountain ranges.

At that elevation, Grannan said, the radar can track incoming missiles from about 200 hundred miles out. The aerostat platform is used to elevate the radar, which is enclosed in a windscreen under the helium-filled aerostat, or balloon.

"We chose an aerostat for its cost effectiveness. Instead of all the people and fuel needed to keep airplanes up and flying, we only need a ground crew of six to monitor the balloon. No one is on the balloon and it can stay up for about 30 days, instead of the 12 to 16 hours a plane can fly before having to land, refuel and change crews," Grannan said. The balloon is not free-floating though; it is tethered to the ground.

The aerostat is a commercial-off-the-shelf kind similar to what the Drug Enforcement Agency uses on the U.S. southern border, Grannan said.

He said besides the low maintenance for the aerostat, its durability is also cost effective. Grannan cited an example of a ground crew working on the southern border that noticed one of its aerostats loosing altitude, so they brought it down and saw it had 12 bullet holes in it. "So, it is durable and obviously can remain aloft from several hours to several weeks with holes in it."

When the radar picks up a missile it will send tracking information through the tether of the aerostat and out to Army, Air Force and Navy units so the missile can be monitored and a fire decision can be made, Grannan said.

According to a Space and Missile Defense Command fact sheet on the JLENS, it was demonstrated during Roving Sands '98 at Fort Bliss, Texas. A German Patriot unit reported killing a cruise missile with JLENS' track number, demonstrating cueing by the JLENS.

It was also used during the All Service Combat Identification and Evaluation Team '99 exercise and proved its joint operational utility by relaying information on a mobile mooring station allowing both the Army and Navy to exchange radar data.

Popular Mechanics will present the award to Lt. Gen. John Costello, commander of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and to Raytheon Systems, contractor for the system, sometime in December. The JLENS was the lead item in the Technology Watch section of the November issue and will also be featured in the magazine's December issue.