The Army’s disastrous blimp surveillance program has been dealt a major blow through a newly released markup of the 2017 annual defense budget bill in the House, which drops funding from $45 million to just $2.5 million.
Democratic Rep. [crscore]Jackie Speier[/crscore], a noted critic of the program, applauded House Committee on Armed Services chairman GOP Rep. [crscore]Mac Thornberry[/crscore] for his markup. Designed by Raytheon, the program’s full name is the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The Army requested $45 million to operate the missile detection system. Congress apparently disagreed with the request.
“I commend the Chairman for defunding JLENS as I have urged the committee repeatedly,” said Speier in a statement. “This isn’t the first time we’ve tried to kill this ‘zombie program’ – let’s hope it stays dead this time. I look forward to working with my colleagues to put this money to use protecting our nation, rather than sending it to float away on a path of destruction from Maryland to Pennsylvania.”
JLENS, the name of the top-secret $3 billion surveillance program, caught national attention in October, 2015, when residents in Maryland and Pennsylvania looked up to see that a gigantic, 240-foot blimp had broken off from its tether and crashed through power lines, leaving thousands without electricity. Two F-16s scrambled in response. State troopers deflated the blimp by firing at it.
Following the disaster, the Pentagon grounded JLENS while it conducted a three-month investigation. The blimp was finally allowed to fly again in February after it became clear the cause was a loss of air pressure in the tail fins. This in turn resulted from “a malfunctioning pressure sensing device called a pitot tube.”
At the time, Adm. Bill Gortney said he still supported JLENS.
“JLENS provides unique cruise-missile defense capability to our integrated air defense system for the National Capitol Region. It is in the best interest of the nation to continue the program. Investigators took a hard look at the causes of the incident, and I am confident that we have a plan of action to safely fly the aerostat again,” Gortney said.
A full draft of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 is set to be released Monday.
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