Army weighs fate of program after blimp breaks loose

Army weighs fate of program after blimp breaks loose
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The fate of an experimental Army blimp surveillance program will be decided after an investigation into why one of its blimps broke loose last week, dragging a cable that left a path of damage as it descended. 

Army spokesman Dov Schwartz said the program is "not suspended" and that a "determination will be reached following the conclusion" of an investigation into why the blimp broke loose.  

"The Army will do a thorough and complete investigation," he added. 

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The system, known as JLENS, was part of a three-year trial program to monitor low-flying threats to the skies over Washington by flying two blimps about 6,800 feet from their mooring station at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. 

After one of the cables broke near its base, the blimp — filled with radar equipment — drifted north at 30 miles per hour to Pennsylvania, reaching a high of 16,000 feet. As it descended, its cable snapped power lines, leaving tens of thousands without power, according to local reports. 

After its tail broke off, it finally descended onto trees in a wooded area in northeastern Pennsylvania. The blimp was then shot in order to be deflated fully and come to rest on the ground. 

There were no reported casualties, and the Pentagon is gathering an assessment of the damage caused.  

The $2.8 billion program — formally known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — began in 2007, but was significantly downsized in 2012, defense officials say. 

The program, which is manufactured by Raytheon and costs taxpayers $50 million a year, has come under fire from lawmakers since last week's incident. 

The chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform wrote a letter to the Defense and Transportation secretaries last week, questioning the value of the program. 

“This event raises serious questions about the value and reliability of JLENS,” Reps. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote. 

Chaffetz and Cummings asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxBig Dem names show little interest in Senate Lyft sues New York over new driver minimum pay law Lyft confidentially files for IPO MORE for all contracts associated with JLENS, all documents about JLENS’s deployment timeline, documents about the deployment timeline of other systems meant to mitigate aerial threats and documents on the reliability of JLENS.  

They want the documents to “understand whether JLENS is a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars,” they wrote, asking for the documents by Nov. 12.