Though halted by the US Department of Homeland Security in February of 2013, on 1/26/2014, the Washington Post reported that the TARS system has been, in essence, reactivated as a test program designed to scan an area in radius spanning from North Carolina northwards to Boston and extending as far west as Lake Erie, in order to offer greater radar protection.
Of even greater interest was the fact that the epicenter of the new surveillance dirigible program will focus on Washington, DC, which already utilizes what could easily be described as the most exhaustive radar net in North America, if not the world.
TARS, which stands for "Tethered Aerostat Systems," utilizes radar equipped dirigibles in order to detect low-flying aircraft ostensibly seeking to evade the US air radar net along Mexico's border.
The system originally provided high resolution radar coverage over the US border while extending its range into Mexico, the Florida straits, and even a section of the Caribbean Sea, while also providing drug-trafficking surveillance for the US DOD counter-drug programs. In addition, TARS was considered a segment of protection for the North American Aerospace Defense Command with regard to their air sovereignty missions for the continental US.
The TARS dirigible
The discontinued TARS anti-incursion program was designed to be extraordinarily low-cost and had been in service since the early 1980's, run largely by private contractors under government supervision. Despite increasing concerns over terrorists' ability to use the porous border as a means to create havoc, especially in the air, the TARS program was said to have been of low priority, too expensive at about $ 3.5 million, and even technologically irrelevant in the modern day, which were all reasons being offered in 2013, for the program's discontinuance.
TARS to JLENS
The newly announced three year test, which is being run by the US military, will tether a starting team of two dirigibles, set at an altitude of about 10,000 feet, over the Aberdeen proving Ground, which is an Army base located in Maryland.
JLENS, visually, a startling similar platform as compared to TARS, except at about $2.5 billion dollars more
The base is only about 45 miles north of Washington DC.
The stated goal of these dirigibles will be to detect cruise missiles launched from somewhere off the East Coast, a long-held problem apparently, which is only now being unveiled as a valid concern, at least in some upper-level circles.
However, many believe the updated program which will be identified under the acronym JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System) may have another use altogether, which centers on extraordinarily unique surveillance capabilities centered along one of the most populous corridors in the entire US.
These same aerostat systems were used to great effect over both Iraq and Afghanistan while using state of the art surveillance systems powerful enough to detect movements of both insurgents and US soldiers, individually.
A Higher Perch
Despite the Army's recent statements of "no plans" for surveillance cameras, the system has already been touted as having the ability to detect and radar track cars, trains, and even boats, however, the system has been stated to have no actual capability of tracking individuals, despite the use of the word LENS being omnipresent within the acronym.
Experts offering a defense of the program, indicate that the high angle of view for these types of heightened surveillance systems severely limit such system's capability to detect a face or a license plate. This despite the fact that a JLENS system over Kandahar positively identified the images of recently convicted Sgt. Robert Bales, returning to his base during the night after murdering numerous Afghan civilians in their sleep.
The dirigible, long a mainstay of dystopian science fiction novels, may become a permanent part of the US urban skyscape, at least if government designs are maintained
Indeed, the other questions of such surveillance systems over the US, center on the extraordinary abuses still being discovered concerning NSA eavesdropping on US citizens, and drones being used to strike civilians. In March of 2013, Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, supported by the ACLU and other Liberal groups, instituted a US Senate filibuster designed to force the Obama Regime and Attorney General Eric Holder, to answer the question of whether or not drones might be used by the US government to strike US citizens.
The US military, under direction by the White House, has plans for at least 16 surveillance systems such as the one being test deployed over the nation's capital. However, the possibility of an aerostat system theoretically being used to direct drone strikes can't be dismissed, as the US continually seems to be more and more directing its security systems inward towards its own civilians, while previously stating that the same system along the US-Mexico border was both too expensive and largely outmoded by modern technology.
Strategically, while the US East coast might be construed as vulnerable to cruise missile attacks, the JLENS system's first deployment might beg the question of why the East Coast? The US Pacific Coast appears far more vulnerable to attack by certain increasingly hostile Pacific powers, which are significantly more likely to use the Pacific Ocean as an attack approach to the US, rather than the Atlantic.
The JLENS development cost, currently pegged at $2.7 Billion for 2 systems, is far higher than the discontinued TARS program with its cost of about $ 3.5 million annually, despite being described as using essentially the same technology.