Last fall, the Defense Department's aerostat-mounted surveillance system designed to scan a 340-mile radius for airborne threats broke loose from its tether. It made the national news – not in a good way. Now, the program is facing more criticism from a report from the Pentagon's testing office.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS, has problems in routing mission-critical threat data and in tracking the airborne threats at which it is aimed, according to the report.
JLENS suffers a cluster of problems. For one, its surveillance radar system is limited to certain frequencies because of electronic interference. For another, major software glitches prevent JLENS from carrying out some of its most essential functions.
"System-level reliability, both software and hardware, is not meeting the program's goals for reliability growth," said authors of a report from DoD's Operational Test and Evaluation Office, released in January but just made public. "The JLENS surveillance radar, as initially configured, had certain features incorporated into its software system intended to deal with the very high target densities that exist. However, the design approach chosen to deal with this problem resulted in certain target sets being excluded by the software algorithms associated with the surveillance radar."
The resulting implications are serious, according to the report: "This could result in some high-priority radar targets not being processed and tracked," it stated.
Furthermore, as far as conveying threat data, "[e]arly testing has revealed problems related to the timely passing of unambiguous radar target track information from the JLENS system into the North American Aerospace Defense Command."
As for the October JLENS aerostat breakaway from its Aberdeen, Maryland, tether site that launched a thousand memes, that incident is under investigation. The outcome of that investigation could dictate the future of the JLENS Combatant Command Integration Assessment, an exercise defense officials were preparing for at the time the aerostat broke loose for several hours and later was downed 150 miles away in rural Pennsylvania.