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N. Korea Tensions Prompt Change in US Air Force Radar Plans

  • Reuters

FILE - A view of COBRA DANE, an intelligence-gathering phased array radar system. The 21st Operations Group is in charge of the radar mission at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska.

FILE - A view of COBRA DANE, an intelligence-gathering phased array radar system. The 21st Operations Group is in charge of the radar mission at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska.

The U.S. Air Force has reversed budget-driven plans to reduce use of a missile-warning radar on the Aleutian Islands in light of heightened tensions with North Korea, the general in charge of space and cyberspace operations said on Tuesday.

Struggling to find $508 million in savings for fiscal 2013, Air Force officials initially decided to scale back use of the radar to quarter power for the rest of the year. The move would have saved about $5 million.

"With the situation in North Korea, we've decided to leave that at full power," General William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, told reporters at a conference in Colorado Springs.

He declined comment on any additional changes being made due to tensions with North Korea, but said the Pentagon was watching developments closely.

FILE - Gen. William Shelton, Commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command, testifies on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2011.

FILE - Gen. William Shelton, Commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command, testifies on Capitol Hill, Sept. 15, 2011.

"The entire Department of Defense, us included, [is] paying very close attention to the provocations by the North Koreans," Shelton said when asked about any actions taken by Air Force Space Command in response to the crisis. "You can let your mind go from there, but we're paying attention."

The comments came the same day that the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress the United States is capable of intercepting a North Korean missile, should Pyongyang launch one in the coming days. But Washington may choose not to shoot it down if the projected trajectory shows it is not a threat.

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 57 smaller ones that extend about 1,200 miles (1,900 km) from the western coast of Alaska.

The Air Force has operated various missile-tracking radars on one of the islands, Shemya, since 1943. It has a 95-foot diameter active electronically scanned array AN/FPS-108 Cobra Dane radar built by Raytheon Co at Eareckson Air Station on the island.

Shelton said the Air Force's initial plan to reduce the radar's power would have eliminated its ability to track objects in space, but the Air Force has other ways to carry out that work.

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