Defense giant Raytheon and the U.S. Army are preparing to unveil two gigantic white blimps that will fly over Washington, D.C. to detect cruise missiles and other terroristic threats. The JLENS vehicles (technically aerostats, a close cousin to conventional blimps) will cost $2.7 billion and will protect a 340 mile radius around Washington, D.C.
Popular Mechanics‘ Darren Orf says 100 Army service members have been trained in operating the aerostats, which contain sophisticated over-the-horizon and fire-control radar systems. If the aerostats detect a threat within their operating area, they are fully integrated into existing missile interceptor systems; they operate with Patriot missiles and Standard Missile-6.
The blimps, which are tethered to the ground, can operate outside of the District thanks to their range. They are currently undergoing setup at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland before deployment.