Air Force radar upgrades ensure situational awareness

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A Battle Management program to improve the reliability and maintainability of U.S. Air Force long-range radar systems reached full operational capability recently when all of the operational long-range radar sites were certified and deemed suitable and operationally effective.

The AN/FPS-117 is a three-dimensional radar system that provides advanced warning and air traffic surveillance. The Essential Parts Replacement Program replaces four major subassemblies: the Maintenance and Control System, the Beacon system, the Uninterruptable Power Supply/ Communications Rack, and Local Control Terminals, which allow remote monitoring, troubleshooting and control of the radars.

According to program officials, it also reduces the line-replaceable unit count by approximately 80 percent, easing maintenance and the number of parts on the shelf.

“Prior to the EPRP modification, the radars, which were originally installed in the 1980s, suffered from excessive parts obsolescence and diminishing manufacturing sources,” said Capt. Nicholas Cusolito, former program manager. “The focus of the program was to eliminate many of the obsolete components in the radar and to ensure continued supportability through 2025 to meet NORAD mission objectives. Furthermore, the modification provides the hardware necessary for the eventual implementation of Mode 5 (identification, friend or foe) capability.”

More than 25 radar systems were upgraded, including the Hill AFB Engineering Facility, with the last site in Hawaii being returned to service in late June after all personnel overseeing operations and maintenance had been trained.

Since many of the sites are located in locations that experience severe weather, the teams faced many challenges.

“Install teams had to brave exceptionally harsh conditions in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic, including subzero temperatures, during the dead of winter in order to keep the install schedule on track,” said Cusolito. “Once on station, they were isolated and confined to relatively tight quarters for five to six weeks at a time and had to remain self-sufficient during that time frame. Many members were not able to go home for months.”

In addition, a change to the Canadian radar O&M contractor during the middle of installs was also a challenge. According to Cusolito, the team had to shift its focus entirely to the Alaskan theater until the new contractor was in place and up to speed.

He added that users in the field and the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, also came up with innovative solutions to challenges faced during the installs, including how to move electronics cabinets, which weigh several hundred pounds each, up narrow stairwells without damaging the walls, cabinets or sensitive electronic equipment.

“Our exceptionally dedicated and passionate users out in the field were extremely flexible in adapting and accommodating to help solve the predicaments that came up,” Cusolito said. “This truly was a team effort where all stakeholders contributed equally to the successful outcome of the program, allowing the capability to be delivered on time and well within budget.”

And Cusolito said the improvements are showing their worth.

“It was critical that these upgrades got completed in order to maintain key situational awareness for the U.S.,” he said.

From here, software updates will be ongoing. Also, a contractor logistics support program will be established to continue sustainment of the system’s hardware and software beyond the current warranty period. During this time, the program office will also look at transitioning to organic sustainment of the hardware to meet the Air Force’s core logistics capabilities and to save on repair and replacement costs.

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