Beyond the Radar Archipelago: A New Roadmap for Missile Defense Sensors

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In missile defense circles, commentators frequently remark that that there are only so many islands or ships in the Pacific on which to put radars. Reading through recent missile defense budget requests, however, one is struck by the fact that the Pentagon seems to have doubled down on a strategy of building a chain of sea- and ground-based radars, both on Pacific islands and elsewhere.

Call it the radar archipelago.

The expansion of long-range missile defense sensors over the past 16 years has, with some exceptions, been nearly synonymous with a gradual increase of large, surface-based radars. And this virtual island chain of radars is growing. In addition to a nearly complete radar in Alaska, $2.5 billion has been allocated over the next five years for the construction of two Pacific radars just to address the threat from North Korea. Once built, these will supplement the current handful of terrestrial radars that include one at Clear, Alaska, the floating Sea-Based X-Band Radar, and two additional ground-based radars in Japan.

Although well-enough suited to limited ballistic missile threats, a thinly layered sensor architecture with many single points of failure is ill-equipped for the specter of complex and integrated air and missile attack. In short, today’s architecture is all too susceptible to suppression.

Read the full report at War on the Rocks.

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Tom Karako, "Beyond the Radar Archipelago: A New Roadmap for Missile Defense Sensors," Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, November 28, 2018, last modified April 21, 2021,