The Pentagon reportedly has suspended a costly missile surveillance program while officials investigate how one of the program’s pilotless blimps broke free from its moorings in Maryland and floated into Pennsylvania, knocking out power for tens of thousands of people.
Army spokesman Dov Schwartz told the Los Angeles Times the investigation would be “complete and thorough.”
The Oct. 28 mishap was the latest setback for the $2.7 billion JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor) program. The two blimps had been in testing mode, hovering some 10,000 feet over the Washington D.C. area and carrying sophisticated radar designed to detect and track airborne threats including cruise missiles. Operated by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), the blimps are supposed have 360-degree situational awareness and be able to stay aloft for 30 days at a time.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the runaway blimp had been taking part in an exercise that was scheduled to begin in January. However, problems with computer software delayed the launch of a required second blimp until mid-August.
JLENS has endured bad publicity from the start. In 2010, the prototype airship costing the Pentagon about $182 million was destroyed when a civilian blimp unmoored in a storm and crashed into it at a manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Then, after a series of problems with cost and performance, the Pentagon was forced to scale back the project in 2012, effectively quashing production of any new machines beyond the two already produced.
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