Long-range missile defense radar ready to ‘plug in’ at NORTHCOM within ‘months’

By Theresa Hitchens,
Published by Breaking Defense, 10 August 2022

The LRDR not only will improve ballistic missile tracking for homeland defense, but also will contribute to space domain awareness, said Northern Command’s Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Joey Lestorti.

SMD 2022 — Northern Command is wrapping up testing of the Long Range Discrimination Radar for missile defense, and expects that it will be operational within “months,” says Brig. Gen. Joey Lestorti, head of the command’s J3 operations directorate.

“We are literally months away from being able to plug in the Long Range Discrimination Radar, LRDR, in the missile defense operational architecture. From the testing so far we are seeing positive results for what this radar can do for us, discriminating threats to the continental US to make ground-based interceptor engagements more lethal,” he told the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., today.

Lestorti said that domain awareness is the “top priority” for NORTHCOM Commander Gen. Glen VanHerck and noted that the LRDR would help make substantial progress.

The S-band radar’s primary purpose is to distinguish between intercontinental ballistic missiles launched by adversarial nations towards the US and decoys or other innocuous objects moving through space. In addition to protecting the country from a legitimate attack, the capability to differentiate between real threats and decoys helps to preserve the Pentagon’s precious supply of interceptors.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) deployed the LRDR to Clear Space Force Station in Clear, Alaska late last year, and once operational the system will be handed to the Space Force for operations. The $1.5 billion radar system, built by Lockheed Martin, was delayed by COVID-19. MDA asked for $75 million for LRDR in its 2023 budget request.

Lestorti explained that not only can the software enhanced radar system play an integral role in missile defense, but, because of its advanced capabilities, it can also support other missions — including helping Space Command keep tabs on the ever-growing amount of satellites and dangerous junk in orbit. Indeed, SPACECOM commander Gen. Jim Dickinson told the SMD 2022 conference Tuesday that the number of objects now being tracked by the command that are bigger than the size of a baseball has ballooned to 47,000 from 25,000 in August of 2019.

“The size and power of the LRDR allow for mission sharing,” Lestorti said. “Not only will it contribute daily to the homeland ballistic defense mission, but it will allow support for our partners at US SPACECOM in the space domain awareness mission.”

But beyond those two missions, how could the radar help the military getting a fuller picture of what’s going on above their heads? Especially if something’s flying at hypersonic speeds? It’s a question Lestorti is still noodling on.

“If a sensor like LRDR acquires a track that isn’t a ballistic missile or satellite, where does that data go? Should the radar drop it, or could that data be passed to the architecture and increase awareness in air domain?” he said. “We need to explore the possibilities of future sensors contributing to the expanded domain awareness in hypersonic tracking. It’s imperative that we incorporate fuse, exploit and leverage every bit of radar data regardless of source and distribute it as needed to the joint force and select partners.”

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