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Damage claims in JLENS balloon escape top $300,000

Damage tab for that escaped Army surveillance bill could be more than $300,000

The Army has received more than $300,000 in claims from a dozen people who say their property was damaged when one of the massive surveillance balloons anchored at Aberdeen Proving Ground escaped in October.

The payout requests await review by Army officials, spokesman Dov Schwartz said. He did not release details of the claims.

The unmanned balloon, which carries radar designed to spot airborne threats targeting Washington, broke free of its moorings Oct. 28 and drifted 160 miles north. It trailed 6,700 feet of cable as it traveled at an average speed of 40 miles per hour.

The military scrambled jets to track the errant aircraft, and people on the ground joined in the exercise, filling the Internet with photos and comments.

It snapped power lines as it floated across rural Pennsylvania, and communities along its path reported power outages. It finally came to rest in Moreland Township, north of Harrisburg.

Claims could increase. People have up to two years to file, Schwartz said, and PennLive.com reported that a Pennsylvania power company expects to lodge a request.

The balloon and its twin were stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground as part of a three-year test of the system's ability to identify and direct fire toward incoming cruise missiles and other threats. Both are now grounded indefinitely while the Army investigates why one broke free.

JLENS — the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — was designed to protect the United States. But after $2.7 billion in funding and more than a decade of research, it had yet to show conclusive results.

Congress cut the program's budget significantly this month in the bipartisan omnibus spending bill. Key lawmakers have said they're waiting on the results of the Army's investigation before deciding whether to kill the program entirely.

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