Sequestration and U.S. Missile Defense/Space Surveillance Radars (February 25, 2013)

According to the Air Force, if sequestration goes into effect, it would have to make cuts in radar operations that would have the effect of “significantly impacting national missile defense, space situational awareness, and the intelligence community.”[1]  Specifically, radar operations at Cavalier Air Force Station in North Dakota and at Earecksen Air Station, Alaska and operation the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS) would be reduced from 24 to 8 hours per day.

Would such reductions actually seriously impact U.S. missile defenses?


Coverage of the Cobra Dane radar at Earecksen Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska.  Figure from Union of Concerned Scientists, Technical Realities, p. 37.[2]

The large phased-array PARCS (Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System) radar at Cavalier, which was originally built part of the Safeguard Anti-ballistic Missile System, is now used for missile attack warning and space surveillance.  Earecksen Air Station on Shemya Island at the western end of the Aleutians is the home of the Cobra Dane, a large-phased array L-band radar originally built to gather intelligence on Soviet missile tests, but which is now also used for missile warning, missile  defense and space surveillance.  The AFSSS is a radar “fence” stretching across the southern United States that detects satellites as they pass over it, and is a dedicated component of the U.S. Space Surveillance Network (SSN).

In terms of missile defense, the impact of these temporary (presumably) cutbacks in radar operations seems pretty minimal.  PARCS is not part of the current GMD national missile defense system, and the AFSSS does not have (and cannot be given) any ballistic missile defense capabilities.  While Cobra Dane has been part of the GMD system since the GMD was first declared operational, because of its poor orientation it has never participated in an intercept test.  While Cobra Dane can potentially provide much higher resolution radar data than the Pave Paws radar in California, it can only do so within a narrow region within 22 degrees of its boresite, which a missile from North Korea towards the U.S. west coast would spend little if any of its trajectory within (as shown in figure above). Nor does removing these radars from the early warning network open up any gaps in the coverage provided by the five BMEWS and Pave Paws early warning radars.

The impact on space surveillance seems potentially much more significant.  Cobra Dane can detect and track smaller objects in low earth orbit than any of the SSN’s other sensors (down to as small as about 5 cm, although it only tracks a small fraction of such objects).  It has this small-object capability largely because it operates at a higher frequency (about 1.3 GHz) than other seven large phased-array radars in the SSN, all of which operate in the UHF band at about 440 MHz.  PARCS, although not ideally situated for space surveillance (it is in North Dakota, facing north) is, along with the FPS-85 radar in Florida, one of the two most powerful of the large UHF phased-array radars in the SSN.  The AFSSS, while it cannot detect objects much smaller than about 30 cm in diameter, nevertheless produces thousands of measurements every day on space objects that pass through its radar fence.

[1] Maggie Ybarra, “Air Force Lists Programs that Sequestration Cuts Would Hit Hardest,” Inside Defense SITREP, February 19, 1993.

[2] Lisbeth Gronlund, David C. Wright, George N. Lewis, and Philip E. Coyle, Technical Realities: an Analysis of the 2004 Deployment of a U.S. National Missile Defense System (Cambridge, Mass. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2004).  Available at:

Ballistic Missile Defense: Location of Second X-band Radar to Japan Announced (February 24, 2013)

The location of the second U.S X-band missile defense radar to be deployed to Japan has been announced.[1]  The TPY-2 radar will be deployed in central Japan at the Kyogamisaki military base near the small city of Kyotango.  The location was described as being selected because it was near the trajectories North Korean missiles fired towards Guam or Hawaii would take.  (This appears to be true for Guam, but not particularly for Hawaii.)  The first TPY-2 to Japan was deployed at the Shariki base in Northern Japan in September 2006, and was the first TPY-2 to be deployed to a foreign country.


(Image from Google Maps)

[1] “U.S. X-band Radar To Be Installed at ASDF Base,” Japan Economic Newswire, February 24, 2013.

Free E-book on Norway and Space Security (February 12, 2013)

Author Bård Wormdal’s book “The Satellite War,” about Norway’s military-related outer space activities is now available for free at  I’ve only just started to read it.    You can download it at:  The last two chapters discuss the Globus-II (formerly HAVE STARE) radar at Vardo.  Wormdal’s message to me today said the book would be free “this week,” so if you are interested you might want to download it soon.

GAO Briefing on Block IIB Alternatives Now Available (February 12, 2013)

The slides for the GAO briefing in the European deployment of the SM-3 Block IIB missile that has been in the news recently are now available at  The briefing, entitled “Standard Missile-3 Block IIB Analysis of Alternatives” makes three main points:

(1)    Romania is not a good location for defending U.S. territory (not a surprise, since that what the location in Poland is about).

(2)    Defending U.S. territory from the Poland site may require launching the interceptor during the target missile’s boost phase.  (This is perhaps the most interesting finding, given that at least publicly the MDA is maintaining that the parameters of the Block IIB are still being defined).

(3)    The North Sea is better location for defending U.S. territory than Poland.  (From a technical perspective this is not news, but the Russians will undoubtedly find it interesting as confirmation that MDA is at least analyzing this basing option, which would provide more opportunities to intercept Russian ICBMs than the Polish site.

Update on the Cost of GMD Test CTV-01. (February 5, 2013)

According to MDA spokeman Rick Lehner in the February 4 issue  of Space News, the January 26, 2013 CTV-01 non-intercept test of the Ground-Based Midcourse (GMD) national missile defense system cost about S170 million.[1]  This is an increase of about $30 million relative to the estimated $141 million that the GAO reported had been spent as of February 2012, as described in my post of December 28, 2012.  Since there is still analysis of the test to be done, it is possible that this cost will increase further.

[1] Mike Gruss, “Troubled U.S. Missile Defense System Passes Flight Test,” Space News, February 4, 2013, p. 7.