WASHINGTON — The Missile Defense Agency has decided to abandon its plans to set up ballistic missile defense radars in the Pacific and is now planning to take a new look at the sensor architecture in the Indo-Pacific Command region to figure out what is necessary to handle emerging threats, according to Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the agency’s director.
Neither the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii (HRD-H) or the Homeland Defense Radar-Pacific (HDR-P) appeared in supporting fiscal 2021 budget request documents released Feb. 10.
Hill explained during a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon that the agency had decided to push the Pacific radars “to the right because of host nation issues that we have to come through,” Hill said. “We still have that issue and the Pacific radar is no longer in our budget. We moved it out.”
The director said he didn’t know where the money that would have funded the two radars would be reallocated, but said it likely went toward funding other Pentagon priorities in the budget request.
In the meantime, Hill said the region is covered against today’s ballistic missile threats using the forward-deployed AN/TPY-2 radar in Hawaii as well as the deployable Sea-Based X-Band (SBX) radar. Additionally, Aegis ships with their radars are mobile and can be repositioned as appropriate “so that is really the answer for how you would handle that in the near term.”
When looking at how the U.S. might defend against future threats like hypersonic weapons, for instance, the agency is beginning a study to look at the ballistic missile defense sensor architecture in the Indo-Pacific region in terms of what options might exist for developing a robust layer of detection capabilities, according to Hill.
“The Pacific radars would have added substantially improved capability to better intercept North Korean [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] using Ground-Based Interceptors in Alaska. But if MDA is going to reevaluate the overall sensor architecture, an attractive alternative would be to double down on a global space sensor layer to track various threats, from various places,” Tom Karako, missile defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Defense News.
The radar data would have fed into the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System designed to protect the homeland from ICBM threats coming from North Korea and Iran. The GMD systems consists of 44 GBIs buried in the ground at Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, designed to counter incoming ballistic missile threats.
The FY19 MDA budget request had outlined plans to spend $95.8 million to design and build two discriminating radars in the Pacific. One radar would be located in Hawaii and another somewhere else in the Pacific.
The plan was to field the HDR-H by FY23, which means military construction would have taken place for the radar beginning in FY21.
Site surveys for the Pacific radar began happening in FY19 with the expectation to begin construction in FY22 followed by a fielding in FY24.
In FY20, MDA requested $247.7 million in FY20 on the Hawaii radar and another $6.7 million to develop the Pacific radar. The Pacific radar program had already slipped by then, with the MDA looking at a 2026 fielding timeframe for the radar because it had yet to determine a location for the radar.
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.