The Cobra Dane Radar Upgrade is an L-band radar located at Shemya Island, Alaska at Eareckson Air Station. It has a single face, 95 feet in diameter, providing 136-degree azimuth coverage. It was originally designed as a missile tracking radar for Soviet missile tests, but was upgraded to perform missile defense missions in 2004. The radar face can detect objects out to 2,000 miles and can provide missile tracking and classification data sufficiently accurate to commit the launch of interceptors and update target tracks during interceptor flight.1 In February 2009, Cobra Dane was transferred from MDA to the Air Force for sustainment.2
The major difference between the Cobra Dane radar and the UEWRs is that Cobra Dane has L-band coverage instead of the Ultra High Frequency band that UEWRs operate at. L-band is a higher frequency signal, allowing the Cobra Dane to perform more accurate classification of target objects. As Cobra Dane deputy program manager, Maj. Daniel Barker explained in 2015, “The radar’s small object detectability performance is better than any of the other Space Surveillance Network phased-array sensors currently available.”3 Cobra Dane also has a single radar panel, limiting its observation azimuth in comparison to the multi-paneled UEWRs.
In 2013, in response to department-wide shortfalls, the U.S. Air Force planned to operate the Cobra Dane radar at a quarter power as a means to save $5 million annually. However, this would reduce the radar’s ability to track objects in space. In response to provocations by North Korea, the Air Force opted to leave the radar at full power.4 In 2015, control of the radar’s operations and maintenance moved from the Air Force Space Command to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Battle Management Directorate and, in 2016, Raytheon signed a new contract to support maintenance of the radar.
- Missile Defense Agency Fact Sheet, “COBRA DANE Upgrade,” http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/cobradane.pdf.
- Missile Defense Agency News Release, “COBRA DANE’s Missile Defense Capability Transferred to U.S. Air Force,” February 19, 2009, http://www.mda.mil/global/documents/pdf/09news0002.pdf.
- Justin Oakes, “COBRA DANE team moves forward with radar’s sustainment plan,” Air Force Materiel Command, July 10, 2015, http://www.afmc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123452662.
- “N. Korea Tensions Prompt Change in US Air Force Radar Plans,” Reuters, April 9, 2013, http://www.voanews.com/content/north-korea-tensions-us-air-force-radar/1638224.html.