Kaena Point Ridge Could See New Missile Defense Radar

Entrance to the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Facility in Hawaii. (US Air Force photo)
Entrance to the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Facility in Hawaii. (US Air Force photo)

A sophisticated radar to track North Korean missiles and better protect Hawaii may join the Kaena Point satellite tracking facility atop Kuaokala Ridge, whose antenna domes are a mountaintop landmark.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency plans to prepare an environmental impact statement that looks at Kaena Point and Kahuku Training Area for the more than $750 million Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act required the agency to develop a plan to procure and field a "discrimination radar" to improve the defense of Hawaii from ballistic missile threats. "Discrimination" refers to the ability to distinguish actual warheads from rocket debris, countermeasures and decoys.

Public outreach meetings are expected late this month, the Missile Defense Agency said. The radar is planned to be operational in 2023 as part of beefed-up defenses in the face of long-range missile technology advances by North Korea, China and Russia.

The agency previously said it had examined 46 sites in Hawaii for the radar -- one of two being added in the Pacific.

"The Department of Defense has not made a decision concerning the location of where to construct and operate the (radar), but has initially evaluated the potential alternatives from a mission requirements standpoint," the agency said in a "notice of intent" to prepare the EIS.

Approximately 160 acres would be used for the radar, which will identify, track and classify long-range ballistic missile threats in the midcourse of flight.

The facility also will have communications equipment to transfer data to a fire control system for 44 interceptor missiles that are in Alaska and California and provide ballistic missile defense for Hawaii and the mainland.

Also planned are entry control and maintenance facilities, water supply and treatment buildings, and an electrical substation.

The notice does not say why land on Kuaokala Ridge adjacent to the satellite tracking facility and Kahuku Training Area are being singled out for review, but the North Shore site provides a higher-elevation vantage point for the new radar.

Kuaokala Ridge would require the use of state agricultural land, the notice said.

The Air Force operates the Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, which has been in service for 59 years. The site, with two main antennas, is one of seven Air Force satellite control networks and is used for launch and in-orbit operations for more than 185 Defense Department, allied and civil space systems, according to the service.

Kaena Point supported the nation's first satellite reconnaissance program in 1959. Now known as Corona, the program was aimed at observing territory in the former Soviet Union, Cuba, China and other areas until 1972, the Air Force said.

Film canisters were ejected from the satellite, falling by parachutes that were snagged by aircraft from Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

Multiple services use the Army's large Kahuku Training Area, meanwhile. The training grounds are crisscrossed by gravel roads and have rudimentary buildings to replicate urban settings.

The Pentagon also is seeking another large-scale radar for the Pacific at an as-yet unidentified location.

"Both radars will close coverage gaps in the Pacific architecture and provide persistent long-range acquisition and mid-course discrimination, precision tracking and hit assessment" against long-range missile threats, Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency, told a congressional committee in April.

The Missile Defense Agency is developing and testing a ballistic missile defense system designed to defend the U.S. and its allies across the globe.

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This article is written by William Cole from The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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