Introduction to Skywatchdc:
Skywatchdc will function as a non-partisan informational resource for academic researchers, journalists, civil servants, students, and other members of the community interested in the JLENS aerostat, manufactured by Raytheon, and set to be deployed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in the greater DC region in September 2013. By making this information available, accessible, and easy to understand, the public will be better equipped to form their own analysis of a new technology that may affect them in the future. The Skywatchdc project was developed under the umbrella of the CCTP 506: Fundamentals of Technology class in the Communication, Culture, and Technology Department at Georgetown University.
Skywatchdc Team Members:
Emily Muth, Man Zhu, Tyler Lopez, Uwa Oduwa, Zhou Jia
Roles and Responsibilities:
- The Research and Coordination Managers (Uwa Oduwa & Tyler Lopez) will be in charge of both coordination and planning of group activities, managing project goals (ensuring objectives are met on time) and handling the general research components of this project including proofreading/editing of documents, the written report, interview planning, survey design and oral presentation preparation.
- The Media Production Manager (Zhou Jia) will be in charge of planning all the video and audio components, ensuring the final product illustrates our topic in high quality.
- The Online Content and Publicity Manager (Emily Muth) will establish the online presence (website) while facilitating social media, website-related updates and the circulation of information related to the project. The annotated bibliography and general publicity for the website will also be of focus.
- The Design Manager (Man Zhu) oversees the general project’s aesthetics. The planning and design of the final technical poster will also be this group member’s responsibility as well as assisting with visual and graphic design of informational brochures, presentation slides and additional web services.
Introduction to the JLENS aerostat:
The Washington DC metro region is about to become a testing ground for a new missile defense and aerospace surveillance technology: the JLENS Aerostat. JLENS, which stands for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, is designed to continuously monitor the region’s airspace, assessing the skies and mitigating threats to security. At an estimated cost of $450 million, the project has been criticized by many in Congress as too expensive given an uncertain economy and dramatic cuts in defense spending. The technology may also alter the region’s skyline. The aerostats (similar to a blimp) will float 10,000 feet above the city, anchored to mobile moorings on the ground below. Each aerostat is about ¾ the size of a football field, or 243 feet. Recently tested in Afghanistan with cooperation from the United States armed services, manufacturer and defense contractor Raytheon promises that the JLENS system will be lower in cost than the current standard aerospace surveillance methods including fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, and ground-based radar technology.
The JLENS system is a relatively simple concept bolstered by modern-day defense technologies. Two aerostats are moored to the ground in different locations strategic to a geographical region. One aerostat is equipped with 360-degree radar surveillance technology, scanning the skies uninterrupted for thirty days at a time. This radar is able to simultaneously monitor hundreds of threats, and may also monitor ground threats including vehicles and swarming boats. A second aerostat houses fire control radar, which can more accurately track confirmed threats from the first aerostat. Through intense focus on specific incoming threats, the fire control aerostat allows networks on the ground to generate a response, providing precise coordinates (targeting data) including velocity, elevation, and range. Defense interceptors are then able to respond (from the air, land, or sea) in order to mitigate the threat.
The simplicity lies in the fact that these technologies already exist on the ground. By simply stationing the technology at a higher altitude (10,000 feet), JLENS allows defense networks on the ground to expand their surveillance range, monitoring targets up to 341 miles away. Because of the height, the technology can also overcome geographical barriers such as large cliffs or mountains that may shield enemy threats from detection by traditional land or sea-based radar. Because of its location in the sky, this may have a significant impact on how ground surveillance is conducted by the military.
Raytheon and the Department of Defense have both released more detailed material explaining exactly how the JLENS works. A comparison to existing defense technologies is warranted to explore the claims that this will cut costs.
While the technology itself is fascinating, Skywatchdc plans to explore the potential controversy it may create as well. By examining the historical narrative that shaped the technology and social implications it may have for citizens, we will provide a comprehensive guide to the public about this new defense technology.
Since the technology is relatively new, our approach for this project will be to provide a historical narrative and ‘de-black-box’ the sociological impacts. By exploring the historical context that shaped JLENS, skywatchdc shows how the technology is not linear. Military-related developments, such as blimps, fixed winged aircrafts, and tethered aerostats have all contributed to Raytheon’s creation of JLENS, directly or indirectly. The use of ballooning in battle is extensive, from surveillance balloons in the US Civil War to Japan’s use of high-altitude balloons in a World War II campaign to bomb the United States.
It is also of importance to analyze the historical backdrop of organizations that have assisted in the development of related technology including the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the Federal Aviation Administration. Understanding the various factors that contribute to this technology are critical to creating an easy to follow narrative for the Skywatchdc project.
The new technology, scheduled to go live this September, will certainly attract more and more public attention over the coming months. In addition to altering the skyline of our nation’s capital, the technology may have psychological effects too: having a continually present visual reminder that we are being watched by our government may create a sense of fear among citizens. Conversely it may create a sense of security. Will the public be comfortable allowing a technology with the capacity to fire weapons and neutralize threats floating above them at all times? In order for the project to be successful, we will have to analyze the social impact as well as the technological consequences the JLENS aerostat will have.
One would suspect that more and more attention will be given to this project in the coming months as the deadline for implementing the project approaches. By creating a robust web presence including blogs, social media, and links, we will be able to become the preeminent non-partisan resource on JLENS implementation in a civilian setting. Understanding how the technology works and what it will be used for is the first step in forming an educated opinion on whether or not JLENS should be embraced.