- Thomson Reuters
A US military blimp, part of a twin multibillion-dollar surveillance program and tethered outside Washington, DC, broke loose and was floating across the northeast region of the US earlier on Wednesday.
Update: NORAD confirmed to WBAL that the blimp has come down in a sparsely populated area of Pennsylvania without injury.
The blimp is part of the JLENS program, which stands for Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor Systems.
The blimp, part of a pair built by Raytheon, was responsible for defending against possible cruise-missile attacks and other potential threats to DC and other East Coast cities through the use of high-detailed radar imaging.
But the airship detached from its tether outside the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland at about 12:20 p.m. Wednesday, according to NORAD.
The airships are designed to have remote deflation technology to help down the blimp in a situation such as this. However, an unnamed official told CNN that the remote may have been malfunctioning.
The blimp has an estimated 6,700 feet of cable dangling from behind it. As the blimp slowly lowered toward the ground, the dangling tether has knocked down power lines and caused power outages for over 20,000 people.
Drag line on property near Bloomsburg, PA. Witness says he saw blimp cable dragging near his home. pic.twitter.com/g30HY5iclC
— Andy Mehalshick (@AndyMehalshick) October 28, 2015
The two JLENS blimps were designed to operate in concert. One of them provides constant 360-degree scanning, covering a circular area from North Carolina to central Ohio to upstate New York, even as the blimp remains stationary over suburban Baltimore. The other focuses on more specific targets. Together, the blimps track missiles, aircraft, and drones in a 340-mile radius.
As of the end of 2014, the JLENS project cost the US government $2.8 billion. Additionally, Congress had approved another $43.3 million for the first year of the JLENS operational test.
NORAD has released the following statement about the airship: