Skywatchdc in the Huffington Post!

Check out this Huffington Post Op-Ed on the HuffPo DC blog by Skywatchdc team-member Tyler Lopez:

“When Raytheon‘s two massive JLENS aerostats deploy over Washington, D.C. next year, they will usher in a new era for surveillance technology in the United States. While many privacy activists have their sights set on military drones and internet-based surveillance programs, the Army is set to begin testing a system capable of monitoring airspace for 340 miles in every direction — and capable of monitoring boats, vehicles, and possibly people on the ground below.”

Full Story: SkywatchDC in Huffington Post Op-Ed


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. <>

“How Much Does the MQ-9 Reaper Drone Cost?” Time: U.S. Time. 6 Nov. 2012. <>

“General Atomics: MQ-9 Reaper.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 2013. <>

Introduction to Skywatchdc

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. Each aerostat (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.

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 new technology. 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.

One would suspect that more and more attention will be given to the JLENS 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, Skywatchdc 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.