Monday, September 16, 2013

JLens- Big Brother Comes to D.C., Md. & Eastern U.S.

It's the "Big Brother" Pentagon project you haven't heard that much about except for short articles in the Baltimore Sun & The Boston Globe.This is a joint project from defense contractor Raytheon (hello, Portsmouth, RI, although this is worked on in Mass, et al and the Pentagon.

While we've been distracted with surveillance problems with the FBI, CIA, and Congress, this very expensive and ongoing project has been ignored by most of the mainstream press. JLENS is the "Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System" (go ahead, I dare you to say that quickly five times). In plain English this is a highly sophisticated radar system consisting of two blimp-like devices (each about as large as a football field) which are tethered to a mooring and a processing center. They can track vehicles (include any kind of boat or airplane) above/below water) along most of the eastern U.S. (N.C. to Can. & W. Va. to R.I.) One devices "sees" and the other translates in real time. They remain airborne for about one month before they need to be hauled down and refilled with helium. These aerostats (aka "blimps") float no higher than 10,000- 15,000 feet- migrating birds fly at this height.

Originally this was to be a much larger project but sequestration and tough times seem to have slowed things down. Right now the Army at Aberdeen Proving Grounds (15 min. from where I live) is getting ready to test this system to see if they wish to purchase it outright from Raytheon. I would know Aberdeen was nearby even if I did not know the distance involved because I hear the booms and feel the vibrations frequently.

This is all part of a missile defense system first proposed in 1983 by Pres. Ronald Reagaon and dubbed "Star Wars." It died in 1984 when the "Cold War" ended. Its current phase it's being touted as providing protection to Wash., D.C. I'm approximating two billion dollars has already been spent by us for development of this project, but there are conflicting numbers due to its secretive nature & current budget boondoggle. It's to begin a three year evaluation here this Spring.  The next step is actual standardized use.

What does all this blah-blah mean? Raytheon touts it as cost-efficient and effective. The military also loves it for the same reasons. Heads-up criticism or shortcomings are mighty hard to find, but this may be due to the very quiet publicity this project has received. Wildlife, privacy and safety concerns all come to mind, not to mention costs. The project at Aberdeen has been budgeted, but will it hold?

Maryland's Congressman "Ruppersberger said the move would generate about 140 jobs for the region." (Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun), but that was in Feb., 2013.  I question that many jobs & wonder for how long.  Ruppersberger  is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. You know them- they've been in the news a LOT lately concerning privacy issues. D.C.'ers are concerned though about this project which will occupy much of their skyline.  I draw your attention to the non-partisan Georgetown Univ. "Skywatch" web site. Security versus freedom- which side will the pendulum swing to and will it stay there?

Irregardless, Raytheon has spent money on this project and expect to see its use elsewhere for non-military purposes. 
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