Clear Air Station is home to the 13th Space Warning Squadron. The squadron is assigned to the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Clear, along with radar units at Thule Air Base, Greenland, and Fylingdales-Moor, United Kingdom, comprise the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System.
The primary mission of Clear AFS is to provide Early Warning of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and Sea-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) to the Missile Warning Center (MWC) at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
The secondary mission of Clear AFS is to provide Space Surveillance data on orbiting objects to the Space Control Center (SCC) also located in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex.
Clear Air Station's mechanical BMEWS radar was deactivated on February 1, 2001, and replaced with a new phased-array radar, the SSPAR which will not only double the coverage of the 13th SWS's missile warning and space surveillance missions, but also increase its capability for tracking objects in space. The mechanical system was incapable of tracking more than one object at a time, but the phased-array system is capable of tracking multiple objects.
The unit's early warning system mission provides reliable early warning of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile attack directed toward the North American continent and timely and accurate satellite detection and tracking data to the maximum extent possible without interfering with the missile warning mission. Clear also provides space object identification data to the U.S. Space Command's Space Control Center and Combined Intelligence Center at Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Colo. The missile warning and space surveillance operations conducted at the site directly support the missions of the Air Force Space Command, the U.S. Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Clear Air Station had three large detection radar antennas that transmited radar energy into space. Each was 400 feet wide by 185 feet high and weighed 2 million pounds. Also, located at Clear was a tracking radar housed in a 140-foot diameter radome atop one of the transmitter buildings. The tracking radar served a dual function. It was used as a surveillance radar covering a predetermined segment of space and could also lock onto a designated object and track it for sufficient time to get an accurate portrayal of its trajectory. Radar returns were converted into signal data that was analyzed by computer. The computer analyzed and transmited tracking information to the missile warning and space control centers in Cheyenne Mountain. A portion of the data processing equipment was used to display the radar returns in the missile warning operations center at Clear which is manned by five people 24 hours a day.
The Ballistic Missile Early Warning System site at Clear was the only remaining mechanical radar warning system in the United States. It was originally declared operational in 1961, and since then underwent several major upgrades.
The installation is divided into three main areas -- composite, camp and technical site. The composite area is where administration, recreation and permanent living quarters are located. Civil engineering and security police offices are found in the camp area and the technical site area is home to the power plant, and operations and maintenance facilities which contain the radars and related equipment.
Air Force personnel are assigned to operations, security police, fire department, and squadron staff functions. The site boasts approximately 14 officers and 99 enlisted military members, and three Canadian, 50 Department of Defense civilian and 210 contract employees.
Contract functions include most base support, and radar technical and maintenance functions. Mason and Hanger provides contracted maintenance and support, including radar maintenance, logistics, transportation, food service, civil engineering, and medical care. Clear's power plant runs three steam-driven turbines/coal-fed boilers which are manned by civil servants.
Workers travel by shuttle bus to the operations and security work areas; otherwise all day-to-day necessities are located in the main composite area which is under one roof to minimize exposure to the arctic environment. Clear covers a total of 11,500 acres, most of which is Alaska wilderness.
The base is located 78 miles southwest of Fairbanks and 250 miles north of Anchorage on the Parks Highway (Highway 3). The nearest settlement to the north is Anderson, Alaska, which is approximately six miles from the station. Nenana, Alaska, is approximately 20 miles north of Clear and Mount McKinley lies 100 miles to the southwest and is visible from the site on a clear day.
The Air Force’s largest military construction project for FY 1998 broke ground on Apr. 16, 1998. The $106.5 million Clear Radar Upgrade (CRU) program aimed at replacing the last mechanical radar in the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System network. Rather than build a completely new radar, the CRU utilized existing radar components from the deactivated phased array PAVE PAWS SLBM warning site at El Dorado, TX. This avoided the acquisition of an entirely new radar system at a cost savings of $140 million. The new radar is known as the Solid-State Phased-Array Radar System (SSPARS) and is housed in a triangular-shaped 11 story building on site.
Several military and contractor organizations worked together on the CRU program. The Air Force Materiel Command, Electronic System Center located at Hansom Air Force Base, Mass., was the overall program manager, and the Raytheon Company was the prime contractor. The Alaska District was the design and construction agent for AF Space Command, and was working with Electronic Systems Center and Raytheon to oversee the MILCON facility construction portion of the contract.
The new facility consists of a ten story steel frame building that houses two approximately 90’ diameter radar array faces on exterior walls and all related equipment. A two story facility equipment building and a one story building for controlled entry are attached. The new facility has approximately 82,700 sq. ft. The radar system was scheduled for initial operating capacity in Jan. 2001. The BMEWS was deactivated on February 1, 2001.
The new radar requires fewer people to maintain the system, and also only requires three people on a crew to operate it compared to the five-person crew required by the mechanical system.
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