A new air defense radar system is undergoing testing on the White Sands Missile Range to prepare it for later integrated testing with the Navy this fall. The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS) is an advanced radar system intended for use by the Army, Air Force, and Navy as part of a larger air and missile defense network.
The objective of the system is to provide a long-range radar system that can detect small, low-flying targets like cruise missiles, as well as other airborne threats, so air defense systems can engage them sooner and with more accuracy.
Radar works by sending out radio waves into the air. When the waves hit something like an aircraft, they bounce off, reflecting back to the radar system, and allowing the system to determine where the aircraft is. Other objects like tall buildings, hills, and mountains can block the radar waves and disrupt or limit that radar. Cruise missiles are designed to take advantage of this limitation by flying low to the ground along routes that allow them to hide behind terrain.
Using large, blimp-like balloons called aerostats, JLENS seeks to counter the threat of low-flying missiles and aircraft by taking a powerful surveillance radar to altitude, allowing the system to look down from heights of up to 10,000 feet and over nearby terrain, eliminating blind spots and extending the range of the radar.
Once a target has been located, a targeting radar system in a second aerostat can then lock onto the target and feed that data to air defense weapon systems. These systems would then be able to engage and destroy the target.
To lift the radar the aerostats need to have some serious lifting power. The radar, the cooling equipment, and some of the other electronics associated with it are fairly heavy because they are obviously built to military standards, and built to handle a military threat environment.
To achieve this lift, each aerostat must be very large -- almost the size of a football field. The JLENS site includes one aerostat, which will be interchangeably equipped with the surveillance or fire control radar, along with the JLENS mobile mooring station that holds the aerostat in place, and the ground station composed of a data processing shelter, a signal processing shelter, and a communications and control station.
The radar's long range, which covers an area larger then New Mexico, allows it to monitor large operational areas, making the system valuable to not only the Army, but the other services as well. Each service has different weapons and requirements that JLENS must meet if it is to work, so extensive integration testing is required.