What, our fault? No indeed, says Army on 'runaway blimp' damages [Editorial]

It probably comes as no surprise that the Army is declining to pay people who said their properties were damaged from Aberdeen Proving Ground's infamous "runaway blimp," a surveillance balloon that broke free from its moorings in the fall of 2015 and flew across the Maryland and Pennsylvania countryside, dragging its heavy mooring cable behind it.

The balloon system, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, was designed to spot cruise missiles and other threats coming toward the U.S. coast and was being tested at APG's Edgewood Area.


As reported by The Baltimore Sun's Ian Duncan and published in The Aegis Wednesday, spokesman Dov Schwartz said last Friday that after investigating the incident, "the United States Army determined that no government employees, agencies or entities were responsible or negligent in a breakaway of a JLENS aerostat balloon from its tether."

"Because of this, the Army formally denied 35 property damage claims," Schwartz said.

Well, technically, he's probably right. The Army bought the balloon system from contractors, and the two balloons moored at the Edgewood Area were being monitored by contractors. All the Army did was order up and see to it that taxpayers coughed up $2.7 billion for the system which, readers may recall, failed to detect a drone flying in restricted airspace near the White House, about two weeks before the runaway incident.

The military has a history of covering up and refusing to pay for its mistakes: Think the sheep gassing incident in Utah in the 1960s, or the harmful effects of Agent Orange used in Vietnam or the situation faced today by veterans deployed to clean up islands in the Pacific years after the H-bomb tests were conduced in the 1950s, who are being denied compensation for their cancer and other disabling conditions that surfaced years after their service.

What's strange about the runaway blimp situation is that it was so public, so ludicrous and so "we saw it coming," that we would think the Army brass and Defense Department would be mortified to suggest they have no complicity for any damages that might have been caused.

As Duncan's reporting has noted, the balloon drifted north pursued by jet fighters before crashing in rural Pennsylvania. During those hours, we're probably fortunate there weren't more catastrophic effects from the chase beyond property damage and some power outages caused by the dragging tether. Nobody was seriously injured or killed.

Schwartz said that anyone dissatisfied with the denial of the damages claims could sue the Army in federal court or pursue a state lawsuit against Raytheon, the contractor responsible for the balloons.

Isn't that the American Way? Deny? Cover up? Sue?

Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.