Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gates Refused To Use Best Radar For N. Korea Missile Test

Gates refused area commander's request

from The Washington Times
Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates denied permission for the U.S. Northern Command to use the Pentagon's most powerful sea-based radar to monitor North Korea's recent missile launch, precluding officials from collecting finely detailed launch data or testing the radar in a real-time crisis, current and former defense officials said.

Jamie Graybeal, Northcom public affairs director, confirmed to The Washington Times that Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, the Northcom commander, requested the radar's use but referred all other questions to the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Mr. Gates' decision not to use the $900 million radar, known as SBX, was "based on the fact that there were numerous ground- and sea-based radars and sensors in the region to support the operational requirements for this launch." [That is a BS reason - my comment]

SBX, deployed in 2005, can track and identify warheads, decoys and debris in space with very high precision. Officials said the radar is so powerful it could detect a baseball hit out of a ballpark from more than 3,000 miles away, and that other radars used by the U.S. would not be able to provide the same level of detail about North Korea's missile capabilities.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, who until recently headed the Missile Defense Agency, said the SBX would have gathered data other U.S. systems could not.

"The sea-based X-band radar is clearly without a doubt the most powerful and capable sensor in all of our missile defense inventory," he said. "It is three or four more times powerful than other radars" in Asia, including Aegis-equipped ships, a Cobra Dane early warning radar in Alaska and a small X-band radar in northern Japan, he said.

Gen. Obering noted that the SBX was used by the U.S. Strategic Command to track a falling satellite and guide U.S. sea-based missile interceptors that destroyed it in February 2008.

One current and two former specialists in strategic defenses said the administration rejected the request because it feared that moving the huge floating radar system would be viewed by North Korea as provocative and upset diplomatic efforts aimed at restarting six-nation nuclear talks. [Oh! We surely wouldn't want to do that - my comment]

Those talks do not appear likely to resume any time soon

Reacting to U.N. condemnation of the April 4 launch, North Korea said Tuesday that it would "never participate in the [nuclear] talks" and would restart its plutonium-yielding nuclear reactor. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said North Korea had ordered U.N. inspectors to leave the reclusive communist country.

According to a senior military official involved in continental missile defense, Gen. Renuart initially sought to use the SBX out of concern that the anticipated launch was aimed at the United States or allied territory.

However, Obama administration civilian policymakers accepted North Korea's claim that the rocket spotted by intelligence satellites being fueled at North Korea's Musudan launch complex was a space launcher with a satellite, and not a missile, the official said. He spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations.

In the end, the missile failed to put a satellite into orbit, although the missile traveled farther than in previous North Korean tests.

Former defense officials said the failure to use the SBX precluded the U.S. from gathering finely detailed intelligence and electronic signatures on the North Korean missile - information that could be useful in guarding against a future rocket launch aimed at the United States or one its allies.

Defense officials said that in addition to monitoring the Taepodong-2 launch, Gen. Renuart wanted the SBX radar in place to provide a real-world test of the new missile defense system.

Missile defense critics have criticized the Bush administration, which began deploying the current system earlier this decade, for not conducting realistic testing of the system.

President Obama has said he wants to make sure that U.S. missile defenses work properly before continuing support for the program.

Philip Coyle, a former Pentagon weapons testing specialist who has been critical of missile defense testing, said the SBX is technically a better radar than any system in Japan.

The administration's restrictions on missile defenses were disclosed as Mr. Gates announced last week that he is planning a $1.4 billion cut in missile defense funding.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, wrote to Mr. Obama on April 6, urging him to reject the missile defense cuts.

The senators warned that the planned missile defense funding cut would undermine international cooperation with Japan, Israel and other states at a time when missile threats are growing.
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