Science and Technology News

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wing adopts new (again) space surveillance mission

by Steve Brady
21st Space Wing Public Affairs

4/5/2013 - PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 21st Operations Group assumed the Cobra Dane radar mission at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya Island, Alaska, April 1, and takes responsibility for contract and program management Oct. 1.

Eareckson Air Station is located on the western tip of Alaska's Aleutian Islands near the larger island of Attu, and is approximately 1,500 miles southwest of Anchorage. The airport lies on the south side of the two-mile by four-mile island.

The radar is about 120 feet tall, the face is about 95 feet in diameter, and with its ability to detect objects about 2,000 miles away, it provides data for the Space Surveillance Network and the Ballistic Missile Defense System.

"The Cobra Dane radar will support the 21st Space Wing missile defense and space situational awareness missions," said Lt. Col. Paul Tombarge, 21st Operations Group commander. The radar will fall under the oversight of the 13th Space Warning Squadron at Clear AFS, Alaska, and will be designated as 13th SWS, Operating Location-Cobra Dane, he said.

The Cobra Dane radar began operations in 1977. Its space surveillance mission was suspended by the Air Force in 1994 due to budget constraints, but was reinstated as a limited duty contractor operation in 1999 with renewed emphasis on the radar's unique space tracking capabilities for protection of the International Space Station and shuttle orbiter flights, Tombarge said. The radar resumed full-duty operation in 2002 to support increased spacetrack demands. The radar began its missile defense mission as a result of the Cobra Dane Upgrade program in 2004.

In 2012, the deputy secretary of defense directed the Air Force to assume responsibility for Cobra Dane. Given the similarities between Cobra Dane and the wing's upgraded early warning radars, Air Force Space Command directed the 21st SW to assume the Cobra Dane mission, Tombarge said.

Cobra Dane will continue to be operated by a contract workforce, and no military personnel will be assigned to the unit at Eareckson AS.

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