The Missile Defense Spectator

The Silent Threat

The U.S. remains woefully undefended from missile attack. Will JLENS survive sequestration?

By 9.21.12

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Riots over the Middle East and South Asia get everyone's attention, but a clear and present danger to the United States homeland exists that virtually no one is talking about and for which we have no defense: missile attack.

A Russian military officials says the recent covert visit of one of their submarines to the Gulf of Mexico proves that they could, without difficulty, launch a missile high over the U.S. that could trigger the explosion of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) bomb that would shut down virtually all electrical and electronic activity in a large swath of the nation. There would be no radiation, no deaths -- "only" economic paralysis and chaos.

Add Iran and North Korea to the list of potential launchers of such a weapon. 

While we have worked for months to develop missile defense capabilities in Europe to protect against a possible Iranian attack there, we have only tested such systems from bases in California and Alaska. Nothing is ready to deploy and given the threat of "sequestration" of large amounts of defense funds, that situation is unlikely to change.

While Congress and the Administration stew and stall over the sequestration issue, the danger is both clear and present and there is something we can do to protect the U.S. homeland from such attacks. It is called the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netter Sensor. That mouthful is shortened to JLENS.

The Army developed JLENS to detect, identify, track and engage multiple hostile targets, including low-flying cruise missiles, as well as those launched from submarines and merchant vessels. The threat is that such attacks might involve EMP, chemical or biological weapons. 

JLENS is deceptively simple, consisting of two lighter-than-air ships that lift to 10,000 feet (or more) both a fire-control and surveillance radar from where they detect potentially hostile targets at ranges of more than 200 miles. It gives field commanders considerable advance warning of threats. The system was tested successfully last April at the Utah Test and Training Range, destroying a simulated hostile cruise missile with a Patriot missile.

Development of JLENS has involved an investment of $2 billion so far. The next step is to answer requests from combat commands for this system by testing it again in the field to fine-tune it. Congress appropriated $40.3 million for such a test; however, before it could be conducted, the Department of Defense asked Congress to allow these funds to be reprogrammed for other purposes, presumably including budget balancing in the face of sequestration. 

Since its creation in the 1950s, the Committee on the Present Danger has focused on the changing nature of threats to the United States. With the potential threat to the U.S. homeland increasing daily, the Committee has written to the Secretary of Defense to urge him to withdraw the request to reprogram the funds so that development of JLENS can proceed. Its cost, in the greater scheme of things, is low when measured against the nature and growth of the threat to our homeland. 

Mr. Hannaford is member of the board of directors of the Committee on the Present Danger.

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”