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RISING SUN

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New Guam defense system must include SM-6, implying major role for Aegis Ashore​

 
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RISING SUN

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Dec 3, 2017
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Air Force F-16 Carried Dragon's Eye Radar Pod Alongside B-1 Bombers On Red Sea Mission​

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Viper fighter jet was spotted carrying an AN/ASQ-236 Dragon's Eye radar pod during a recent sortie over the Red Sea with Air Force B-1B bombers and Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 fighters. This appears to be the first time this combination has been seen in the region and highlights how this pod, originally designed to be carried by Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, has now become an operational tool for Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Vipers. The pod offers a way to quickly give F-16s significant additional all-weather targeting and surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities when required.

A total of two F-16Cs, a pair of B-1Bs, and four Saudi F-15s flew together to demonstrate "commitment to partners and regional stability" yesterday, according to the Air Force. The Dragon's Eye pod is visible underneath one of the Vipers in a picture from this mission that the Saudi Ministry of Defense released, a crop of which is seen at the top of this story and the full version of which is seen below. It's not entirely clear what unit the Vipers belong to, but the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing sent some of these jets and around 300 personnel to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia for a scheduled deployment in October.

Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense

The F-16C carrying the Dragon's Eye Pod is visible at the top left of this photograph.

That the Viper in question belongs to an Air National Guard unit makes good sense. The Air Force announced in September 2020 that at least 200 F-16C/Ds in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve had been upgraded to be able to carry this radar pod. Work to integrate Dragon's Eye onto these jets dates back to at least 2018.

USAF

The Dragon's Eye pod is just barely visible on the F-16C at right in this picture that the US Air Force released from the mission over the Red Sea yesterday.

Dragon's Eye is a powerful sensor system that has an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar at its core that is capable of being rotated around the pod's center axis. The pod also contains geo-positioning and cooling systems. The radar has synthetic aperture functionality allowing it to produce high-fidelity imagery of a large area and is said to be sensitive enough to detect small and even shallow-buried objects, such as individual people and improvised explosive devices. It reportedly has ground-moving target indicator (GMTI) capabilities, as well, giving it the ability to track moving vehicles and ships below. What this all means is that system can be used to conduct general intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions and collect targeting data for actual strikes, all at extended ranges and in any weather conditions.

USAF

An F-15E Strike Eagle carrying a Dragon's Eye pod, indicated by a white arrow, among other stores.

This is hardly the first time that Air Force aircraft have been seen carrying the pod in the Middle East, but previously it had been almost exclusively associated with the F-15E. The service's F-15E fleet is small compared to how many F-16s it has, and the Strike Eagles are in high demand. So enabling Vipers to carry Dragon's Eye expands the total number of platforms that can carry the system, offering greater operational flexibility, on top of just giving individual jets a major boost in capability.

Many Air National Guard F-16C/Ds are separately in the process of receiving new, highly capable AN/APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radars (SABR), another AESA type. Pairing Dragon's Eye and SABR together would produce a very impressive set of capabilities, though it's not clear if this particular Viper carrying the pod over the Red Sea yesterday has a new AN/APG-83.

The focus of this mission yesterday appears to have mostly been about highlighting partnerships between the U.S. military and its Saudi counterparts. The Red Sea is a highly strategic body of water where the Dragon's Eye pod could have real operational utility. It lies between two major chokepoints, the Suez Canal to the North and the Bab Al Mandeb Strait to the south. An accident involving the container ship Ever Given left the Suez Canal blocked off for six days earlier this year and underscored how even relatively short disruption of commercial shipping in this region could have major negative economic impacts worldwide.

Accidents aren't the only potential threats to unfettered maritime movement and general security in this part of the world. Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen regularly launch attacks on commercial interests in Saudi Arabia, including against ships in the southern Red Sea and facilities along the coast there, in addition to military targets. There have been concerns in recent years that this group, and Iran itself, may be expanding its ability to strike farther north, including at targets in southern Israel. Iran, or at least proxies acting on its behalf, have launched a number of attacks on commercial ships in the Middle East in recent years, including vessels tied to Israel as part of a maritime shadow war those countries have been waging against each other.

F-16s with Dragon's Eye pods would be able to help keep an eye out for potentially hostile activity in and around the Red Sea, as well as help execute strikes on threats that pop up and conduct damage assessment after any such operations. The AN/ASQ-236 presents a particularly ideal tool for spotting and targeting small boat swarms, no matter what the weather down below might be like. Iran and its proxies routinely demonstrate how swarms of small boats are a very real threat in the region, as is highlighted in the video footage below from a recent altercation in the Gulf of Oman.

۳. تصاویری از عملیات برخورد نیروی دریایی سپاه با ناوهای آمریکایی pic.twitter.com/Nm0dmhV32l
— خبرگزاری فارس (@FarsNews_Agency) November 3, 2021


Flying from Prince Sultan Air Base, which is situated in central Saudi Arabia closer to the Persian Gulf, Vipers with these radar pods could perform similar missions elsewhere in the region, which has no shortage of potential hotspots.

With hundreds of Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Vipers now capable of carrying Dragon's Eye, seeing jets in the Middle East, as well as other locales, will likely only become ever more routine.
 
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BMD

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Cutting-edge Space Force radar installed at Clear base​

By Zachariah Hughes
Updated: 8 hours ago Published: 18 hours ago

The Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) at Clear Space Force Station. Photographed Oct 26, 2021. (Ryan Keith / Missile Defense Agency)

A new milestone was reached Monday in the creeping militarization of space.

A ceremony at the Clear Space Force Base (formerly Clear Air Force Station) south of Fairbanks celebrated the end of construction and installation of a new Long Range Discrimination Radar, a sophisticated monitoring system designed to bolster American missile defenses.

“Once fully operational, LRDR will provide unparalleled ability to simultaneously search, track and discriminate multiple small objects, including all classes of ballistic and, in later iterations, hypersonic missiles, at very long ranges, under continuous operation,” heralded the Missile Defense Agency in a press release.

Now that the cutting-edge radar is installed inside a newly constructed facility nearly five stories tall, a testing and training phase will begin, with the device expected to be fully integrated and operational by 2023. Once testing is finished, control of the radar will change from the Missile Defense Agency to the U.S. Space Force.

“You have built an extra set of keen eyes that will paint the picture of any threat coming our way,” said Lt. Gen. A.C. Roper with the North American Defense Command.

The LRDR has an enormous field of vision over huge swaths of the Pacific theater and is touted for its ability to quickly spot and identify complex components from intercontinental ballistic missiles launched high into the atmosphere. For example, the sensors can track debris and decoy objects kicked out as a missile’s boosters drop away and a warhead descends back toward earth. The radar functions as the early warning system in the military’s missile defense strategy, with ground- or sea-based projectiles launched to hopefully destroy an incoming ICBM before it can hit its intended target.

After the brief ceremony and distribution of commemorative plaques, attendees were offered cake and punch before heading out on tours. Afterward, military officials held a roundtable with media calling in from around the country.

A number of questions focused on hypersonics, the emerging class of missiles that are super fast, highly maneuverable, and can fly low enough to evade many defense systems. While the U.S. has started developing hypersonic weapons, China and Russia are widely believed to be substantially further ahead in incorporating them into their military arsenals.

“The primary driving requirement,” said Vice Adm. Jon Hill of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency about the LRDR, “is against the ballistic missile threat. That is what the radar filters are designed to go after.”

It’s unlikely there would be additional hardware necessary for the LRDR to be reconfigured for tracking hypersonics in the future, Hill said.

The radar was specifically put in Alaska because of its vantage over the Indo-Pacific region to spot ICBM’s that could potentially be launched by North Korea.


Aerial photograph of the Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) at Clear Space Force Station, Alaska, July 19, 2019. (Ryan Keith / Missile Defense Agency)

“Alaska gives us a field of view we need to do homeland defense,” said Lt. Gen. David A. Krumm, who is in charge of Alaskan Command, the Eleventh Air Force, and Alaska’s NORAD assets, including the radars that feed information back to bases in the Lower 48.

The price tag for the LRDR’s installation at Clear is around $1.5 billion. Construction and installation of the radar, which was built by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, was slowed because of the pandemic.

The LRDR will not replace the network of Long Range Radar stations across Alaska, which since the Cold War have been in place to monitor for encroaching aircraft and long-distance bombers. Krumm said the new capabilities are a complement to the existing radar systems.