Nuclear-armed missiles speeding through space, and even hypersonic weapons traveling at five times the speed of sound, may soon have much more difficulty breaking through advanced Pentagon missile defenses. This is due to a soon-to-be-completed new Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) system built to find and destroy fast-approaching threats traveling beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
The LRDR, an emerging new high-powered, extremely sensitive radar detection system, is described by the MDA essay as a “massive array” that is both 60ft high and 60ft wide and draws upon gallium nitride technology to increase radar power and discrimination technology.
The tactical concept is to not only “knock out” the approaching threat, but also identify and counter many potential threats at one time, in large measure by relying upon new levels of sensor detection sensitivity and precision which can succeed in distinguishing actual warheads from surrounding objects such as discarded missile parts, space debris or enemy countermeasures. The LRDR can, as one senior Pentagon official described it to The National Interest, help “steer” Ground Based Interceptors to the correct target.
“LRDR tracks and discriminates multiple threats simultaneously, providing precision track and discrimination data to Missile Defense System firing units such as the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System (GBIs),” the MDA paper says.
The Lockheed system, which developers said is now 90-percent done, has successfully tracked over 200 satellites with up to five simultaneous satellite tracks over an eight hour period, during what the MDA described as a LRDR Capability Exercise Event in December of last year. This year, Lockheed and the MDA plan to track up to six rockets launched from NASA’s Wallops Island flight facility.
Lockheed developers, who have been employing a “build, test, build” strategy with LRDR development at their facility in Moorestown, N.J., say the new S-band radar technology is rapidly nearing completion.
“The team is gearing up to complete the installation of the radar and light off of the first array during the second quarter of this year. Our system is mature and embedded. We are working toward finishing our test program. We build a little and test a little and have 10 percent left,” Chandra Marshall, Radar Systems and Centers Vice President, Lockheed Missile Systems, told The National Interest.
Ultimately, it may seem almost too self-evident to mention that the tactical aim of the LRDR is “homeland defense,” the Pentagon official said.
“LRDR’s improved discrimination capability in the Pacific architecture will increase the defensive capacity of the homeland defense interceptor inventory by conserving the number of Ground-Based Interceptors required for threat engagement,” the MDA essay explains.
As Marshall explained, the concept is to optimize, streamline and preserve GBI functionality by increasing descrimination, precision and actual intercept capability.
“You want to make sure you are not wasting a GBI. This radar will confirm accurately whether you need to fire it,” Marshall said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.