On a crisp winter’s day, a tethered blimp almost as big as a football field slowly rises into the blue Maryland sky, casting its radar eye over greater Washington and well beyond.

The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Elevated Netted Sensor System, better known as JLENS, is intended to spot low-flying cruise missiles amid thousands of aircraft in this corner of the US east coast.

“This balloon is a radar that covers, oh, (a radius of) 300 miles (485 kilometers) — about the size of Texas — to allow us to see threats at a further distance out,” said Colonel Frank Rice, commander of air defense operations for the US capital region.

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