by Staff Sgt. Craig Gantt
10th Space Warning Squadron
10/9/2012 - CAVALIER AIR FORCE STATION, N.D. -- Driving
on North Dakota's Highway 5, some perceive a behemoth 12-story radar
building standing in the distance as a relic of the Cold War. However,
unbeknownst to the passing public, the 10th Space Warning Squadron has
undergone rigorous upgrades and modernizations as a culmination of
necessity and innovation.
The radar at Cavalier Air Force Station is no stranger to innovation. In
1973, massive rooms in the radar were dedicated to providing the space
necessary to house one of the first multiprocessor computers in the
world. Considered an engineering marvel at the time, the 48 large metal
cabinets have now been replaced by a modernized computer that can fit in
a room no bigger than a small storage closet. Extremely complex
hardware systems stand idle as emulation software suites now silently
provide far superior capabilities.
The Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System is a vital
component of the Integrated Tactical Warning Attack Assessment System.
Once a stalwart of the Army's Safeguard program, PARCS is now one of the
most advanced ground-based radar sites in the world. The primary
mission of PARCS is to provide early warning and attack characterization
of submarine launched or intercontinental ballistic missile attack on
the continental United States and Canada. PARCS is the only missile
warning sensor that can provide attack characterization and assessment,
and determine the number and types of missiles entering its radar
coverage. Additionally, PARCS has the capability to provide earliest and
next time of impact metrics for the continental United States.
PARCS is also a collateral space sensor. Its secondary mission is to
support the Air Force's space surveillance mission by providing
tracking, reporting, and Space Object Identification data on Earth
satellite vehicles. PARCS accounts for nearly 40 percent of the Air
Force's phased array radar observations, collecting up to 100,000
observations per day. As the workhorse of the space surveillance
mission, PARCS has been the primary contributor for timely space event
resolution for more than five years. It is also a major contributor to
the conjunction assessment program, searching for lost objects and
ensuring collision avoidance for the International Space Station and a
wide variety of other orbiting assets. PARCS is an incredibly powerful
radar. Its 16 transmitters are capable of producing 25 megawatts of
power cumulatively. The radar is able to track 75 percent of all
catalogued space objects on orbit today. Recent innovations to specific
hardware and computer components have resulted in extensive advancements
in promoting longevity and cost effectiveness of the system.
Two of the most recent innovations to the radar are upgrades to Central
Logic Control and the Traveling Wave Tubes. The CLC is the heart of the
radar's data processing system. It performs calculations, makes
decisions and directs the operation of interfacing subsystem components.
Recent upgrades have dramatically increased the efficiency and lifespan
of the CLC. The old legacy system was replaced by emulation software
which is more reliable and greatly increases system memory. Not only has
this innovation increased system performance, but it has reduced
Currently, Cavalier AFS uses more than 100 Traveling Wave Tubes that are
essential to radar operations. The TWTs are linear electron
accelerators capable of producing 200 kilowatts peak power of pulsed RF
output. This power output results in the creation of the RF radiation
PARCS uses to carry out its mission. This process can heat the TWTs up
to temperatures of 1,100 degrees centigrade, resulting in damage to the
TWT components and a shortened service life. At approximately $130,000
per TWT, heat damage can make system operations extremely expensive.
Through improvement, Air Force and Navy studies produced new TWT
filament regulators. The installation of these new regulators resulted
in a change to TWT operating temperatures extending the service life of
these components by up to 25,000 hours. Additionally, vacuum ion pumps
have been added to prevent damage to TWTs. The historical consistency of
innovation at Cavalier AFS has saved the Air Force millions of dollars.