Space-based missile tracker comes to Japan
October 31, 2007
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — About 24 soldiers will be assigned here to the Joint Tactical Ground Stations unit, or JTAGS, the first of its kind in Japan, according to U.S. Army officials.
Soldiers who will operate the mobile missile tracking system began arriving this summer and more are due, said Capt. Steve Jennison, commander of Charlie Detachment, 1st Space Company, JTAGS.
Though its three satellite antennas can be picked up and moved in the back of vehicles, the station will be a permanent presence at Misawa for the foreseeable future, officials said.
“The plan is not to move,” said Maj. Tim Dalton, 1st Space Company commander at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
Dalton was at Misawa on Friday to conduct a JTAGS site survey.
“We have the ability to operate now,” he said of the system.
JTAGS processes data from U.S. missile-warning satellites orbiting more than 22,000 miles above Earth.
It can identify a ballistic missile’s launch point and time and provides an estimated impact point and time.
Though this is the first JTAGS in Japan, three others are deployed around the world: Osan Air Base, South Korea; Stuttgart, Germany; and an undisclosed location in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.
Locating the system in Misawa — as opposed to another base in Japan — was more of a logistical decision than a strategic one, Army officials said.
“(The base) provided the support required for the soldiers, and it also had space available for us to put up a building,” Dalton said.
JTAGS is the second U.S. ballistic missile detection site in northern Japan. The Shariki Communications Site sits west of Misawa on the Sea of Japan. It’s been in operation for more than a year, run and supported by two soldiers and about 100 U.S. government contractors.
JTAGS is a space-based system, while the Shariki site is ground based, Jennison and Dalton said.
Shariki uses radar to “put out its own energy and receive a reflection back off of something in flight,” Jennison said.
“It all fits into a multi-tiered missile defense system,” Jennison said. “In a perfect world, we spot the launch, pass the data to the radar at Shariki — or similar high-altitude radars — they then know where to aim their radar, track and send information to the high-altitude interceptors.”
The idea, he added, is to “see and track the missile from the start,” so interceptors “get as many chances to knock it down as possible.”