The Army is testing giant high-tech blimps east of Baltimore to assess their ability to provide an early warning if the national capital area were attacked with cruise missiles, drones or other low-flying weapons.
But after 17 years of research and $2.7 billion spent by the Pentagon, the system known as JLENS doesn't work as envisioned. The 240-foot-long, milk-white blimps, visible for miles around, have been hobbled by defective software, vulnerability to bad weather and poor reliability.
The Baltimore Sun reports that "Army leaders" tried to shoot the program down in 2010 only to be caught in crossfire with Raytheon, the contractor making the blimps, lobbyists, and go-along Congress critters. The Sun's evaluation of the program is scathing, obvious, and deeply sads-inducing:
A more serious problem, from the standpoint of Army leaders, was that even a fully functioning JLENS wouldn't be much use against the weapons that were killing and maiming U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: crude rockets, artillery and improvised explosive devices.
JLENS was designed chiefly to defend against cruise missiles, which were not a threat in those battle zones. And the United States already had radar-equipped planes that could detect cruise missiles.
Ineffective, stupid, and irrelevant? Check, check, and…check.
The good news is that this blimp program has only cost U.S. taxpayers a relatively paltry $2.7 billion so far. All for a technology that was a running joke back when Capt. Parmenter, Sgt. O'Rourke, and Cpl. Agarn were fighting the Indian Wars on F Troop: