November 3, 2017 – Upgraded Early Warning Radars now provide data on man-made space-based objects without delay, thanks to efforts of Air Force Life Cycle Management Center personnel at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
Five massive radar sites arrayed throughout the northern hemisphere, mostly designed and installed during the Cold War, provide missile warning information and track space-based objects for the U.S. and joint partners. The new data source impacts the orbital tracking mission.
“Our radars track and identify a lot of space-based objects. But, in this case, important information wasn’t getting to the people who needed it to make timely decisions,” said Col. Todd Wiest, senior materiel leader, AFLCMC Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems division, referring to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex Combatant Commanders’ Integrated Command and Control Systems.
UEWR primary missions include missile warning and missile defense, where radars spot missile launches, track them and send data to the Ballistic Missile Defense System. These primary missions enable ground-based interceptors to launch and eliminate incoming threats. The secondary mission is space surveillance, which includes tracking orbiting manmade objects in increasingly crowded skies.
“We first realized there was a problem with space-based object tracking in January of 2015,” said John McConnell, a contractor who works in the NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment branch. “At that time, [Air Force] Space Command ordered the BMEWS system to provide this data on orbiting objects, and we started trying to do that immediately. Pretty soon after that we realized, ‘uh-oh, this data isn’t going through.’ We then tried to figure out the fastest way to complete a fix. ”
Over the next few months, McConnell and ITW/AA Deputy Program Manager Erica Ochoa worked with experts to analyze the problem and come up with solutions. According to Ochoa, experts estimated that a radar-based software and equipment fix for each site would take 24 months or more to complete.
Ochoa’s branch began implementing a single fix for signal-receiving hardware at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in late 2016, rather than sending teams to each of the five radar sites to fix the broadcasting hardware. By August 2017, the team had completed upgrades to Cheyenne Mountain, and the space object information data was flowing between radar sites and combatant commanders.
This solution, implemented in about eight months, or about one-third of the estimated time for site-specific fixes, allows time and space for radar program managers to negotiate a less- rushed, fully-design-compliant solution for the radar site, whose equipment and software includes proprietary material requiring contract action to alter.
“Owning the baseline is an important factor for us,” said Ochoa, referring to the technology inherent in the control system. “With this fix, the team demonstrated that we can maintain baseline ownership and yet have the latitude to accomplish small software changes, like this one, that allow one system to communicate with another.”