The future of the U.S. military will be decided not by any single weapons platform or service. It will be determined by how well it can acquire, process, exploit and disseminate information. All the military services are working to improve their networks. They also need to develop a cross-service capability so that sensors operated by the Army, for example, can be employed on behalf of the Navy and Air Force.
One Army system that could provide critical ISR and targeting support to the other services is the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The system was originally designed to provide warning and target tracking of low flying cruise missiles and aircraft that could fly under typical radar systems. However, JLENS, which consists of two tethered aerostats carrying extremely powerful radars with a range of some 550 kilometers, is capable of detecting and tracking not only cruise missiles and aircraft, but small boats, vehicles on land and even, in some cases, ballistic missiles. JLENS has successfully demonstrated the ability to provide fire control data to a Patriot battery and the Navy’s Aegis air and missile defense system, enabling them to successfully engage airborne targets. JLENS was designed from the start to support the missile and air defense operations of all the services. It carries a full array of communications capabilities allowing it to feed data to Army, Navy and Air Force units and platforms.
Several Combatant Commands have made requests for JLENS to be deployed in their areas of responsibility. The Army had requested approximately $100 million to conduct a full demonstration of JLENS’s capabilities that would, if successful, likely lead to a decision to procure the system.
However, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) markup of the defense bill cut $30 million from the Army’s request. If this cut makes it to the final bill, it could jeopardize the Army’s ability to execute the planned demonstration, and could make it unlikely that a planned second JLENS system could be deployed in other areas of responsibility in response to expressed interest from the commands.
This is a great example of the HASC being penny wise and pound foolish. JLENS offers a potentially game-changing capability, one that would be particularly valuable in places like the Persian Gulf and Western Pacific. With JLENS in place in the Persian Gulf, our forces in the region and America’s allies could have near continuous coverage of one of the world’s most important waterways. The demand for ground and air-based surveillance systems would be reduced as a consequence, allowing the military to conserve scarce assets. It makes no sense to undercut a critical joint capability over a few million dollars.
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