Surveillance... Beware the Weather Blimps

Razer Rayzer at
Thu Oct 29 07:58:30 PDT 2015

On 10/28/2015 07:55 PM, grarpamp wrote:

> According to IBM, the acquisition helps it to harness one of the
> largest big data opportunities in the world ... The deal will combine
> two big data platforms, IBM's cognitive and analytics business with
> that of Weather ... The Weather Company has the fourth-most visited
> mobile app in the U.S. and handles 26 billion inquiries to its
> cloud-based services daily, generating about 4 GB of data per second
> ... including Weather's mobile and web properties, which analyze data
> from ... over 40 million mobile phones
> JLENS, has become a fixture of the Baltimore skyline since the first
> of the two blimps was launched over Middle River in December. When
> aloft, the aircraft use sophisticated radar to see up to 340 miles in
> any direction ... It can be used to track ... cars on land.
> Authorities say the system is intended to watch for and direct fire on
> ... other threats. Privacy advocates, meanwhile, have expressed concern 
> about deploying such sophisticated surveillance technologyover the United States.

From the Sun article:

> Raytheon, the contractor that makes the blimps, says the cable is unlikely to break. "The chance of that happening is very small because the tether is made of Vectran and has withstood storms in excess of 100 knots," the company said on its website. "However, in the unlikely event it does happen, there are a number of procedures and systems in place which are designed to bring the aerostat down in a safe manner."

Yeah: " a number of procedures and systems in place"... which begs the
question how much does it cost to scramble two f-16s to follow it around
like a cow gone astray?

Houston, we have a problem:

Military Blimp’s Rampage Deflates Raytheon’s Hopes to Sell More

In what may be the most bizarre and public crash of a multi-billion
dollar Pentagon boondoggle ever, a surveillance blimp flying over an
Army base in Maryland broke loose Wednesday afternoon, its 6,000-foot
long tether wreaking havoc on the countryside before it finally came
down in pieces in Pennsylvania.

The giant airship — 80 yards long and about the size of three Goodyear
blimps — was one of a pair that represented the last gasp of an 18-year,
$2.7 billion-dollar program called JLENS or “Joint Land Attack Cruise
Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System.”

There were once supposed to be 36 of them, their high-resolution
360-degree radar coverage up to 340 miles in any direction protecting
the nation from cruise missiles.

But costs inflated, doubts about their utility mounted, and the program
was scaled back and almost killed.

Blimps, it turns out, have had mixed success in purely military terms.
When equipped with cameras, they are highly effective at conducting
surveillance – but the Army promised there were no cameras on the JLENS

What blimps are best at is having a psychological effect: making people
feel like they’re being watched. Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson’s short
documentary The Above touches on that phenomenon. The film, made for The
Intercept‘s Field of Vision project, mostly shows a U.S. military
surveillance balloon floating on a tether high above Kabul, Afghanistan.
But it ends with shots of the JLENS.

Finally, the Army agreed to launch two of them, for a three-year test.
They were hovering at a height of 10,000 feet just off Interstate 95,
about 45 miles northeast of Washington, D.C., and about 20 miles from
Baltimore. In theory, they could track moving objects from North
Carolina to Boston, or an area the size of Texas. With only two in the
air, they effectively cost about $1.4 billion each — a lot, even by
advanced weapons standards.

While the blimps became perhaps the Pentagon’s most visible white
elephants, their manufacturer, the Raytheon Co., still hoped to make
some more money off them.

The huge defense contractor’s endgame, at least until Wednesday, seemed
to be trying to sell them abroad.

In a video interview with Shephard Media just two weeks ago, Douglas
Burgess, director of persistent surveillance programs at Raytheon,
discussed the JLENS program. “There’s a lot of interest internationally,
particularly now that we’re up and flying,” he said. “I can’t talk
specifics about who, but there is certainly a lot of interest

As for his next step? “For us, it’s to get the A+, I call it, on the
scorecard from NORAD about its operational utility here on the East
Coast. So that’s really our near-term focus.”

But that A+ has now most likely turned into something closer to an F.

Then again, JLENS has cheated death before. After a JLENS blimp was
destroyed in a storm in September of 2010, Army officials raised doubts
about the program, attempting to scale it back. That set in motion an
aggressive effort by Raytheon to win over support from Capitol Hill and
the Pentagon.

Raytheon retained the lobbying services of former Sens. John Breaux,
D-La., and Trent Lott, R-Miss., through the firm now known as Squire
Patton Boggs, to press lawmakers on the urgency of the program. TCOM, a
subcontractor for the project, also brought on lobbyists to boost the
blimp, including American Defense International, a D.C. consulting firm.

The company’s officials argued that the JLENS could be used “not just in
combat, but also American cities and towns” as a surveillance tool for
tracking small planes and other domestic threats, according to an
investigation by the Los Angeles Times.

Raytheon, which sponsors regular advertisements in the Beltway Metro
system and is a prominent sponsor of think tanks across the city,
launched a series of promotional videos. Make sure you have the sound up
for this one:

The savior of the JLENS program, according to the Times, was Marine
Corps Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff. Cartwright argued within the ranks of the military that
the blimp had broad use, despite claims by many that the blimps would
not be much use against the type of crude weapons, such as IEDs, used
against troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cartwright, after securing support for the blimp, joined Raytheon’s
board, a position that has paid him more than $828,000 in cash and stock.

Among the promotional material Raytheon prepared for JLENS was a FAQ.
One of the questions was “Can the tether break?”

The Raytheon answer: “The chance of that happening is very small because
the tether is made of Vectran and has withstood storms in excess of 100
knots. However, in the unlikely event it does happen, there are a number
of procedures and systems in place which are designed to bring the
aerostat down in a safe manner.”


With links:

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