Monday, April 4, 2005

The Pentagon announced yesterday the completion of a new high-powered radar that is a key element of the U.S. ground-based missile defense system.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said the joining of the 2,000-ton Sea Based X-Band radar and its oceangoing platform — ultimately destined for the island of Adak off the coast of Alaska — on Sunday is a “major milestone” in the evolving U.S. missile defense system.

“It gives us the capability of dramatically expanding our testing … and by porting it in Adak it also gives us an operational capability from a North Korean [missile] threat,” Gen. Obering said in an interview.

The radar was fitted on top of a huge converted oil-drilling rig in Corpus Christi, Texas, Gen. Obering said. The drilling rig is supported by two pylons, each the size of a U.S. Trident missile submarine.

The sea-based system uses a powerful phased array radar that can search vast areas of space and also track multiple targets at the same time.

Over the next several months, the new X-Band radar station will be tested through sea trials and then transported this summer to Adak in the Aleutians, where it will be used to track missiles fired at the United States from Asia by the end of the year.

It is part of a network of sensors that includes large early warning radars, destroyer-mounted Aegis radar now deployed near North Korea and other ground-based systems, such as the radar code-named Cobra Dane deployed at Shemya Island, also in the western Aleutians.

In addition to North Korean missiles, the radar could be used to detect Chinese missile launches.

Data from the X-Band radar will be used in missile defense tests throughout the Pacific, including target and interceptor missiles launched from the Kwajalein Atoll test facility in the Marshall Islands, and from Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where eight U.S. missile interceptors are deployed, Gen. Obering said.

The radar system is unique because it is “capable of moving throughout the Pacific Ocean” for missile defense operations and testing, according to the Pentagon statement.

Two recent missile defense tests were not completed after interceptors failed to launch due to technical glitches.

The radar will be a key addition to the ground-based missile defense because it is capable of “advanced tracking and decoy discrimination,” according to the statement.

China has use decoys mixed with dummy warheads on several long-range missiles tested in recent years. The Chinese military currently is building three new versions of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The ground-based missile defense currently is considered a test system but one that could be used in an emergency to knock out an incoming missile, mainly an attack from North Korea, which in 1998 test-fired a long-range missile.

The radar will sit atop a football field-sized platform about 250 feet above the water.

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