Controversial surveillance blimps that can spot a person 340 miles away have been unveiled by military firm Raytheon.
It boasts the project can offer ‘360 degree 24/7 surveillance for 30 days at a time’ – and revealed the US Army has already bought two.
One is being trialled over Maryland, with the other being kept in ‘strategic reserve’.
‘By putting JLENS in strategic reserve, the Army is giving combatant commanders around the globe the ability to pick up the phone and, in short order, receive this incredible air defense capability in their area of responsibility, said Raytheon’s Dave Gulla, vice president of Integrated Defense Systems’ Global Integrated Sensors business area.
The system is called JLENS — or Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — which is composed of an integrated radar system on two tethered, 80-yard blimps.
The blimps fly at altitudes of 10,000 feet above sea level and remain aloft and operational for 30 days, enabling the use of defensive measures against cruise missiles, low-flying manned and unmanned aircraft, and moving surface vehicles such as boats, mobile missile launchers and tanks.
Threats can be detected from as far as 340 miles away.
The Maryland systtem can detect missiles from Boston to North Carolina on the coast and as far inland as Lake Erie, according to the Washington Post.
Raytheon, which makes the craft, advertises them as useful for 24/7 surveillance.
‘What if there was an affordable way the U.S. and its allies could always “see” the threat, instead of having to hope they had a ship or airplane in the vicinity to detect the threat?,’ it says on its website.
‘JLENS, an affordable elevated, persistent over-the-horizon sensor system uses a powerful integrated radar system to detect, track and target a variety of threats,’ Raytheon says.
Aerostats, as they are now called, are already used to protect American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are outfitted with cameras and used to track insurgent and U.S. troop movements.
The dirigibles famously snared Army Staff Seargent Robert Bates slaughtering 16 civilians in Kandahar in March 2012.
Video showed Mr Bates returning to the base under what he thought was the cloak of early morning darkness.
The footage showed him carrying the rifle used to carry out the mass murder.
The blimps are also used at the U.S. – Mexico border to try to catch illegal immigrants, CBS News noted.
The army has commissioned defense contractor Ratheon to provide the airships, which will hover at an altitude of about 10,000 feet over the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, for the multi-year trial run.
Privacy advocates worry the blimps will also be equipped with high-resolution cameras and radar to track the movements of civilians.
‘Right now there are no rules,’ Christopher Calabrese, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told CBS News. ‘There’s nothing that bars us from having high-powered cameras monitoring our every public movement.’
Another ACLU analyst echoed those thoughts to the Post.
‘That’s the kind of massive persistent surveillance we’ve always been concerned about with drones,’ said Jay Stanley. ‘It’s part of this trend we’ve seen since 9/11, which is the turning inward of all these surveillance technologies.’
The Army insisted in a letter to the paper that the aerostats, which can fly for as long as 30 consecutive days, will be the first line of defense against incoming missiles.
‘The primary mission… is to track airborne objects. Its secondary mission is to track surface moving objects such as vehicles or boats. The capability to track surface objects does not extend to individual people.’
The government also said that there are currently no plans to put cameras capable of tracking people on the blimps, but it could not rule out doing so in the future.
As it is currently constructed, the program is expected to cost $2.7billion.
Civilians as far away as Baltimore will be able to see them from the ground.