Q & A: Comparing JLENS to Drones

During our poster session we were asked why JLENS was better than drone surveillance (our classmates at Ctrl+F may also have some opinions to share). As you may know, Skywatchdc is a non-partisan organization, so we’ll provide some information and let you do the deciding. Let’s just do a quick comparison of 6 facts about each technology:

Global Hawk

Image from the U.S. Air Force


Image from Defense Update

Image from Defense Update


  • Stays in the air for 30 days at a time without refueling (uses nonflammable helium gas)
  • JLENS systems do not require ‘pilots’, only analysts.
  • Total program cost of $450 million
  • No publicized plans on weaponization of technology
  • Huge payload capacity for more sensitive surveillance and communications technologies
  • Stationary blimp has surveillance range of 341 miles.

These facts are simply not enough for us to draw any conclusions as each technology serves a very different purpose. When concerned only with domestic surveillance capabilities, JLENS presents a more affordable and more environmentally sustainable solution for ranges that can easily include entire metro areas. Because it can monitor objects in every direction for 30 days at a time and does not include weaponized payloads, it may prove to be more palatable to the general public as a ‘necessary’ defense surveillance technology. In combat zones, however, drones offer a multitude of defensive and offensive possibilites that JLENS cannot. Join the debate and let us know what you think on twitter (@skywatchdc).

Zakaria, Tabassum. “In New Mexico desert, drone pilots learn the new art of war.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 23 April 2013. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/23/us-usa-security-drones-idUSBRE93M04520130423>

“How Much Does the MQ-9 Reaper Drone Cost?” Time: U.S. Time. 6 Nov. 2012. <http://nation.time.com/2012/11/06/12548710-60/>

“General Atomics: MQ-9 Reaper.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Atomics_MQ-9_Reaper>