The United States Air Force is expected to commence an important modernisation of three ballistic missile warning radar; namely the PAVE PAWS (Phased Array Warning System), the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterisation System (PARCS), and the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).
All three of these systems have different, yet interconnected, tasks. BMEWS, which uses radar located inGreenland,AlaskaandNorthern England, provides NATO and the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with warnings of Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile attack. PARCS, which utilises a single AN/FPQ-16 phased-array radar based inNorth Dakotaperforms space surveillance monitors space, tracking earth-orbiting objects, and to detect ballistic missile attack. PARC’s data is then fed to the North American Air Defence Command inColorado. PAVE PAWS, which has radar systems located inMassachusetts,CaliforniaandAlaskafeeds radar imagery to US STRATCOM headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base inOmaha,Nebraska, providing warning and attack assessment for ICBM launches aimed at the continentalUnited States.
A Request for Information has been released to industry by theUSAFElectronicSystemsCenter. The upgrades will principally focus on modernising the front end of these radar, with the possibility of some improvements to radar processing should this be required by the front end modernisation. Moreover, further upgrade efforts are expected to commence in 2016 to improve the signal and data processing capabilities of these radar.
Local reports in late January noted that the operation of a new early warning radar system inTaiwancould be delayed until next year.
The United Daily News reported that land subsidence was causing problems to the construction of the site which will host the radar inHsinchuCounty, on the northwest of the island.
The operation of the new radar had been planned for November this year. There has been no word on the type of radar being installed at the site in Hsinchu County. However, the reports have noted that the radar being installed there is US-supplied. Although not official confirmed, it is entirely possible that the radar could be one of the Raytheon AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS systems which Taiwan purchased via a contract awarded to the company by the US Air Force Material Command Electronic Systems Centre in June 2005. The AN/FPS-115 is capable of providing early warning and space surveillance coverage.
Flight operations at Colombia’s AlfonsoBonillaAragónInternationalAirportwere disrupted in January following an attack by the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo) insurgent organisation on a radar station in the Cauca Department in the southwest of the country.
Reports on 22nd January noted that the radar serves the airport, but also aids in anti-narcotics operations of the Fuerza Aérea Colombiana (Colombian Air Force).
There has been no word on the radar type which was attacked by the FARC-EP. However, it is possible that it could have been one of the Westinghouse Defense and Electronics Division/Northrop Grumman AN/TPS-43 or Northrop Grumman AN/TPS-70 3-dimensional air surveillance radar.
Both of these systems have been supplied to Colombia by the United States to aid the country in its anti-narcotics efforts.
Israeli press reports on 19th January hinted that the Hezbollah insurgent group may have acquired 9K33 Osa (NATO reporting name ‘SA-8 Gecko’) short-range, radar-guided SAM systems.
The 9K33 is a self-propelled air defence system which includes organic radar. It is believed that the 9K33s may have been acquired fromSyria. The Syrian Army is thought to operate an unknown number of 9K33 systems. If Hezbollah has been successful in acquiring the 9K33, it could represent an important step-change in the organisations’ air defence capabilities. Hezbollah is known to have acquired MANPADS of Russian origin although at best these weapons can threaten aircraft only operating at low altitudes up to circa 10,000ft (3,048m). The 9K33, however, can deploy missiles with a range of up to 39,000ft (11,887m).
That said, this weapons system is a ‘known quantity’ as far as air defence suppression efforts are concerned. The Israeli Air and Space Force has encountered the 9K33 before in previous conflicts and has no doubt acquired a comprehensive knowledge regarding how this system’s radar can be jammed, or destroyed, with anti-radiation missiles. Moreover, the 9K33 has also been encountered by NATO forces in previous conflicts in the Balkans,Iraqand, most recently,Libya. Once again, Allied air forces with be highly familiar with this system, and its potential weaknesses. An added factor is that the vehicle-mounted 9K33 Osa has a distinctive appearance potentially making it easy to spot with air reconnaissance and thus easy to destroy with conventional laser and Global Positioning System (GPS) guided ordnance.
Hezbollah’s new weapons may give it the ability to target aircraft at a medium range, although this systems’ vulnerability may make its utility in any future conflict involving the insurgent group temporary at best.
General Sverker Göranson, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, has muted the idea of developing a common Nordic airspace with Finland and Norway. Speaking at a conference in Sälen, southern Sweden on 15th January, General Göranson suggested that such an initiative could be one way of keeping air defence costs low, by pooling air policing duties between all three nations. He also suggested that Denmark could join the initiative, to further widen the air defence coverage. A common Nordic air space could, potentially, have benefits for the participating nations. The militaries of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark already enjoy a high degree of cooperation, and regularly train together. Moreover, all these nations do have existential air defence threats, not least in the form of occasional sorties close to their airspace by Russian air force aircraft. Nonetheless, developing a potential common Nordic air defence district could bring some challenges. Norway and Denmark are both NATO members, while Finland and Sweden are nominally neutral; although both are members of NATO’s Partnership for Peace initiative. Protocols for the sharing of air defence information, and intercepting targets, would need to be standardised. Moreover, technical challenges in ensuring that datalinks and communications could operate between all of these nations vis-à-vis the transfer of written and voice traffic would need to be overcome. A mechanism would also possibly need to be developed to enable all of the participating nations to see the same Recognised Air Picture. That said, expense incurred during the development of the common Nordic air defence initiative could be recouped later on in terms of personnel and equipment savings.