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For JLENS, time to turn out the lights [Editorial]

For JLENS, time to turn out the lights [Editorial]
(Chelsea Carr / Baltimore Sun)

Here's what you get when you try to bootstrap outmoded technology to modern needs: Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, aka JLENS.

Last week's fiasco with the runaway JLENS blimp from Aberdeen Proving Ground became the laughingstock of the world in the age of social media.

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Still, it's too kind to call the APG-based blimp breaking loose and heading 160 miles across Maryland and Pennsylvania an "embarrassment" for the U.S. military and its contractors on the JLENS program. Excuse the hyperbole, perhaps, but the whole JLENS program has been an exercise in gross incompetence.

As documented previously by our colleagues at Tribune Newspapers, the JLENS program has been 17 years in the making and has burned up $2.7 billion of the taxpayers money, "only to be hobbled by defective software, vulnerability to bad weather and poor reliability."

Poor reliability, indeed. Raytheon Co., the Pentagon's lead contractor for JLENS, asserted that the system is "proven," "capable," "performing well right now" and "ready to deploy today." For what, the circus?

Or, maybe the blimps can be used for a few episodes of "The Walking Dead" or some other zombie-themed show. JLENS, according to reporting by our Tribune Newspapers colleagues, has been seen "as an example of what defense specialists call a 'zombie' program: costly, ineffectual and seemingly impossible to kill."

After last week, JLENS should rightly take its place with other military industrial complex foibles like the B-1 bomber, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, $500 toilet seats and $400 hammers.

Despite the obvious failure of a system based on technology dating at least to China's Han Dynasty, that covered roughly 200 years on each side of the birth of Jesus Christ, there are a few positives to take away from last week's JLENS debacle.

For starters, Aberdeen Proving Ground lived up to its middle name, demonstrating in a few short months of hosting them that using tethered blimps as a missile warning system makes about as much sense as say, deploying a troop of coastline spotters equipped with binoculars and two-way radios to look for enemy nuclear missiles bearing down on the United States.

And, it's heartening that nobody got hurt in connection with the blimp breakaway, which could have had much more dire consequences than the power outages that certainly inconvenienced several thousand northern Pennsylvania homes and businesses.

Finally, our emergency systems in Harford County responded quickly and efficiently to threats posed by the blimp flying uncontrolled across the county dangling a mile-long tether cable behind it. There was immediate and close communication between the county government and the command at APG. That's as things should be in such situations.

As for the future JLENS, will somebody in charge at the Pentagon please just turn off the lights? This zombie's party is over, folks.

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