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Video Above: Russia's Attack in Ukraine Highlights Pentagon Hypersonic Weapons Defenses

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

The 2023 Missile Defense Agency budget is prioritizing defense against hypersonic missiles by funding its now operational Long-Range Discrimination Radar, a next-generation, highly sensitive radar system intended to help disguise actual threats from decoys and debris. 

Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR)

Several ICBMs can present even more of a problem for defenses, as seekers can at times be at a loss to track multiple threats simultaneously. Defenses can struggle to distinguish an actual warhead-carrying ICBM from a decoy, debris or even non-lethal parts of the missile breaking off in-flight to release a reentry vehicle

The MDA budget allocates $75 million for the Alaska-based LRDR and $165 million for Sea-Based X-Band Radar.  ”This advanced radar achieved initial fielding in December of 2021 and is a critical mid-course sensor that improves missile defense system threat discrimination capability and also allows for a more efficient use of the ground-based mid-course defense system,” Dee Dee Martinez, Comptroller, Missile Defense Agency, told reporters according to a Pentagon transcript.

The Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, is a multi-mission, multi-face radar designed to provide search, track and discrimination capability in support of U.S. homeland defense, Oct. 26, 2021.

The Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, is a multi-mission, multi-face radar designed to provide search, track and discrimination capability in support of U.S. homeland defense, Oct. 26, 2021.

The LRDR is described in an 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.

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MDA officials explain that the budget also includes funding for supportive systems needed to enable the LRDR.

“Our F.Y. '23 request continues operations and support for this critical radar. $20 million to sustain and provide updates to the Upgraded Early Warning Radars, or UEWRs, and continue to sustain the Cobra Dane radar in partnership with the U.S. Air Force,” Martinez said.

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),” an 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 2020. In 2021, Lockheed and the MDA tracked rockets launched from NASA’s Wallops Island flight facility.

Long Range Discrimination Radar

The Long Range Discrimination Radar at Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, includes a multi-face radar designed to provide search, track and discrimination capability in support of U.S. homeland defense. The LRDR complex also includes a mission control facility, power plant and maintenance facility, Oct. 24, 2021.

“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.

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

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization