WASHINGTON — Support is growing both in Congress and in the Pentagon to pursue a Hawaii-based ballistic missile defense radar that the Missile Defense Agency did not include in its fiscal 2021 funding request.
Previous MDA budget requests in FY19 and FY20 asked for funding for the discriminating radar as well as another somewhere else in the Pacific. The plan in FY19 was to field the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii, or HDR-H, by FY23, which meant military construction would have taken place beginning in FY21. Then in FY20, MDA requested $247.7 million for the radar. Lockheed Martin received an award to develop the radar in December 2018.
But in FY21, funding for both the Hawaiian radar and the Pacific radar was missing in the request. MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said in February, when the request was released, that the agency decided to hit the brakes on its plans to set up the radars in the Pacific, instead planning to take a new look at the sensor architecture in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command region to figure out what is necessary to handle emerging threats.
Hill noted that the area is covered by a forward-deployed AN/TPY-2 radar in Hawaii as well as the deployable Sea-Based X-Band radar. Additionally, Aegis ships with their radars are mobile and can be repositioned as needed to address threats in the near term, he added.
Yet, over the summer, the Hawaiian radar gained traction in Congress via funding support in the House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee’s version of the FY21 defense spending bill and the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the defense policy bill.
The House subcommittee injected $133 million to pursue the homeland defense radar in Hawaii, and the SASC added in $162 million to continue HDR-H development. The SASC also included language that essentially reminded the Pentagon that HDR-H was a response to a mandate in the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act to improve coverage for the threat of ballistic missiles in Hawaii.
The HDR-H was also listed as an unfunded requirement for FY21 by Indo-Pacific Command.
The SASC also directed the MDA to provide an updated plan that accounts for delays related to finding a site in Hawaii, noting it expects the Pentagon to fund the program in subsequent budget requests.
During a presentation at the virtually held Space and Missile Defense Symposium on Aug. 4, Hill showed a slide listing focus areas for the agency in FY21. The presentation included the currently unfunded radar, third from the top of the list.
“The potential for getting a radar onto Hawaii as part of another major sensor allows us to have that launch-all-the-way-to-intercept view out in a very large ocean area in the Pacific,” Hill said.
The HDR-H is categorized as a focus area for the MDA “because if the [Defense] Department decides to move forward with HDR-H, then the HDR-H will be deployed as part of the U.S. homeland defense architecture against long-range threats,” Mark Wright, MDA spokesman, told Defense News in an Aug. 6 statement.
The missile defense architecture “must evolve with advancements of the threat,” he added. “Space sensors do not replace but complement ground-based radars by providing track custody during radar coverage gaps. Having both terrestrial radar and space sensors provides dual phenomenology to accurately track and discriminate the threat as it continues to become more complex.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.