by Robert Lingley
U.S. Air Force 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
The 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base has seven missile warning radars located strategically around the world that are constantly looking for ballistic missiles inbound to the North American continent. Their mission is to execute combined global capabilities, to defend the homeland, and enable space combat operations.
The Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division, or Sentinels, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, provides maintenance for the radars to help the 21st SW by developing and sustaining missile warning, missile defense, space situational awareness, and command and control capabilities as promised to the warfighter, all while being effective stewards of resources.
“We continue to team with the 21st SW and look for ways that we can help them improve their operations,” said Col. Todd Wiest, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center Senior Materiel Leader for the SW&SS division. “Our main focus now is taking the long view by being innovative in providing capabilities faster and while also looking at what we can do to bring these systems up to the state of technology.”
Wiest said SW&SS also has the responsibility to maintain missile warning and command and control. Our missile warning leaves Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station and goes to the president of the United States, geographical combat commanders, and our partner nations.
21st SW radars include the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization at Cavalier Air Force Station, two PAVE PAWS radars at Cape Cod AFS, Massachusetts and Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, and three Upgraded Early Warning Radars at Beale Air Force Base, California, Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, and Royal Air Force Fylingdales Air Force Station, England.
“I help to make sure that the managers for all those sustainment programs are maintaining a broader look so we keep an integrated system available for our country,” Wiest said. “I also help them deliver these updates to ensure the systems will operate today, tomorrow, and start looking towards the future.”
The 21st SW also has a COBRA DANE missile defense radar at Eareckson Air Station on the island of Shemya, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, that provides missile tracking data to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Fire Control Center.
“Our radars have many components that are very old right now so we try to make sure that they continue to operate for the 21st Space Wing,” Wiest said. “We make sure they’re available 24/ 7 and 365 days a year.”
“The radars are really good work horses,” Wiest said. “The hardware technology is good, but obviously it could be better with significant advances. We are poised to advance one of the radars with a missile defense mission we worked closely on with the Missile Defense Agency.”
Wiest said that one of the Division’s big pushes right now with the changing threat environment is a need to operate differently in space as well as missile warning and defense with the age of their systems and the desire to have their capabilities delivered faster. He helps those program managers break down barriers that are out ahead of them and provide integrated capabilities.
“If something goes wrong at a site we have teams with our industry partners who will drop everything and rush to fix that problem,” Wiest said. “We have spare parts on the shelf at the sites for many of the components and the 21st SW Airmen can swap out a broken part with a usable one. Sometimes, however, there are items that we need to dive into and provide additional support so we’ll have Airmen on airplanes shortly after finding out what’s going on and we’ll get it fixed pretty quickly.”
If a missile is launched against North America one of the radars will receive notification of the launch and that information will be sent through circuits to Cheyenne Mountain AFS.
“We have the capabilities at Cheyenne Mountain AFS to categorize the missile launch and provide information to the president and other decision makers,” Wiest said. “We then wait for an assessment on what to do next.”
SW&SS systems facilitate the assessment that is recommended with the analysis being done by the Command and Control Center.
SW&SS is continually looking at what to do with changing threats all while taking on the challenge of replacing older components.
Wiest said his sustainment teams have a responsibility and he’s asking them to look strongly at how they can improve these systems for the future so they can provide critical information to decision makers.
“We’re working hard internally and with the 21st SW and Air Force Space Command to figure that out and prepare for the future as our threats grow exponentially,” Wiest said.