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Ruppersberger applauds suspension of JLENS program; future of program uncertain

WASHINGTON (WBFF) -- The future of Maryland's blimp program is in limbo. On Wednesday, the Pentagon suspended the JLENS program amid an investigation into what caused one of the football field-sized blimps to escape last week.

Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger is applauding the decision, saying the defense system can't become a threat to the people it's designed to protect.

"The number one priority is safety of my constituents," he says.

A week after the military blimp broke loose, the entire $2.7 billion dollar program has been suspended.

"If we have technology and we spend a lot of money on and it doesn't work then we have to deal with it. Find out why. Who's accountable? And then move on. But we do need to have protections for our citizens," Ruppersberger says.

The blimp housed radar designed to detect missile threats.

What's left of it is being brought back to Maryland from where it crashed in Pennsylvania.

"It certainly has had some troubles," says Dan Grazier with the Project On Government Oversight. He questions whether the program works, saying safety's at stake since the emergency protocols didn't work.

"NORAD claimed the system was supposed to go down in 10 minutes after the tether broke. It flew for three hours and traveled 160 miles. Even when hit the ground, it had to be shot almost 100 times by Pennsylvania police officers to keep it down."

Those questions will be front and center as the Army investigates how the accident happened.

As far as does the JLENS program have a future, Ruppersberger says he wants to learn more about the Army investigation before making a decision on that.

Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, directed the second aerostat remain grounded at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Future decisions regarding the continuation of the operational exercise will be made following the investigation's conclusion.

"If the outcome of the investigation leads to the resumption of the operational exercise, we will work with the Army and the Department of Defense to review the way forward and continue to assess JLENS' performance in support of cruise missile defense capabilities for the National Capital Region," says Gortney.

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