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Missile warning radars see modern equipment installed

Sun sets behind UEWR at Beale Air Force Base, California.

The sun sets behind the Upgraded Early Warning Radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Program Executive Office Digital is upgrading the five radars that serve as the United States’ first warning of sudden missile attack. (Courtesy photo by Eddie W. Clark, InDyne)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Program Executive Office Digital is upgrading the five radars that serve as the United States’ first warning of sudden missile attack.

Upgraded Early Warning Radars arrayed throughout the Northern Hemisphere have the primary mission of missile warning and missile defense, and a secondary mission of tracking space-borne objects. They are all undergoing upgrades to their computer systems and will continue to provide accurate and timely data to combatant commanders.

These latest upgrades will focus on the processing equipment that builds information commanders and senior leaders use to make decisions and provide warning in case of attack, as well as support missile defense requirements for homeland defense.

“The upgrades address several issues, but the biggest one is obsolescence and sustainability,” said Lt. Col. Yong Sim, PEO Digital’s program manager for the radar upgrades. “When the processing equipment reaches a certain age, no one makes parts for it anymore. Things break and you run out of spares and then have to find workarounds. By upgrading the system with more modern and supportable equipment, we are extending the life of the radars.”

The 17th Test Squadron based in Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, completed the first operational test of the computer systems at Beale Air Force Base, California, May 7, 2019. After a 30-day trial period, Air Force Space Command operationally accepted the UEWR June 6, 2019, proving the systems effective and suitable for operations.

The program team here is fielding systems in various stages of deployment at four other sites: Fylingdales, United Kingdom; Clear Air Force Station, Alaska; Thule Air Base, Greenland; and Cape Cod Air Force Station, Massachusetts. The Air Force expects to complete the final upgrades by the end of 2020.

“With these upgrades to computer systems at the Early Warning Radar sites, they can now use algorithms and software to track missiles and potentially defend against them with more accuracy,” said Kevin Donoghue, a MITRE company engineer assigned to the program at Hanscom. “Airmen operators at all the UEWR sites, as a result of equipping them with modern, sustainable equipment, will be able to use these powerful tools to build a picture using the information these radars provide.”

The requirement for these upgrades dates back to 2009, and this current upgrade program began in 2012. The contract is worth $329 million and has been challenged by the need to install significant amounts of equipment into radar sites that have a 24/7 mission. According to Sim, it is difficult to shut systems like the EWR down long enough to perform nonstop work. Contractors must build a switching system to facilitate rapid reconfiguration between the legacy and upgraded systems in order to minimize downtime.

“We’re going from 14 server racks with a 500 megahertz processing capacity to three servers with a two gigahertz processing speed,” said Sim. “That’s a four-fold processing improvement with a nearly five-fold reduction in size.”

The Raytheon Co. is the primary contractor and it’s working with subcontractors to complete work on systems and infrastructure within the radar. Forty-eight PEO Digital and Missile Defense Agency employees at Hanscom and Peterson AFB, Colorado, are working the project from the program management side, working closely with Airmen, civilians and contractors at the five radar sites who ensure work stays on schedule.