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An unmanned Army surveillance blimp which broke loose from its ground tether in Maryland floats through the air about 1,000 feet about the ground while dragging a several thousand foot tether line just south of Millville, Pa., on Wednesday. (Jimmy May/Bloomsburg Press Enterprise via AP)

Ruppersberger: Suspension of so-called zombie blimp program ‘right decision’

The suspension of a blimp program in Maryland is being called the “right decision” by a Maryland congressman whose district includes Aberdeen Proving Grounds and other military installations in the state.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who has been on record supporting the program called JLENS — Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — said public safety concerns are of primary importance after one of two 242-foot blimps stationed in Maryland became untethered and floated into Pennsylvania, where it knocked out power to thousands before crashing in a wooded area near Moreland Township.Dutch Ruppersberger

“Under the circumstances, suspending the JLENS program until the Army completes its investigation into last week’s incident is the right decision. It is an unfortunate irony that a program designed to help safeguard the skies over the nation’s capital threatened the security of citizens on the ground, including in my district. While I strongly believe the capabilities that JLENS provides for the defense of Maryland and the national capital region against low-trajectory missiles from enemies such as ISIS and other terror groups are critical, civilian safety must come first.”

And while Ruppersberger remains supportive of the program, others are raising questions about its effectiveness.

In September, the Los Angeles Times reported that a a government audit revealed that the  two-decade old, $2.7 billion program has failed to live up to expectations including failing to identify what amounted to an Inspector Gadget gyrocopter that a 61-year old Florida postal employee flew into Washington, .D,C air space and then landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

The paper called the system “a zombie project” and said it routinely had trouble distinguishing between friendly and enemy aircraft.

The paper now reports that an investigation into the mishap in Aberdeen could end the program.

“I am confident the Army’s investigation will determine how JLENS became untethered and who, if anyone, is to blame,” Ruppersberger said.. “Only then should a decision be made regarding the program’s long-term viability.”