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Upgrades to missile detection radar earns civilian recognition

  • Published
  • By Benjamin Newell
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- America’s nuclear deterrent relies in part on 25,000 40-year-old solid state modules, divided between five massive Northern Hemisphere radar sites, which amplify the radiation needed to detect incoming ballistic missiles.

Dr. Donald Hoying, the radar’s program manager at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, leads a team of 50 military and government civilians and contractors, who are working to upgrade these SSMs while improving the radar’s satellite, space-borne object and missile detection capabilities. In November, Hoying won the 2017 AFLCMC Outstanding Civilian Acquisition Program Manager Award for his efforts.

At a recent event, Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, addressed the importance of sensors to deterring nuclear attack. “When I was asked in front of Congress, can we improve the missile defense capability, I said we can,” said Hyten. “We can do it by improving our sensor capabilities first.”

Because a nuclear attack could come at any time, there is no option to shut down one of the five radars for repairs. Hoying, who leads Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Ballistic Missile Early Warning System sustainment effort in the Strategic Warning and Surveillance Systems Division at Peterson, says his team is improving the long range missile attack sensors while minimizing operational impacts.

“We know this system is valuable to our senior leaders and our national security,” said Hoying. “We also know that these radars were installed some 40 years ago, and they cannot fail. We’re always looking for new ways to keep them online as we upgrade capabilities, or fix aging components. That’s the interesting part—minimizing the downtime, keeping the capability online, and doing something as extensive as the SSM replacement.”

The award is Hoying’s most recent of many for his role in addressing key capability upgrades. His team hardened radars to survive electromagnetic pulses, protected sites against cyberattack and consolidated multiple sustainment contracts, saving the government $50 million. SSM replacement, the largest update underway, will address an estimated 25,000 aging components in the BMEWS system, positioning the radars for expanded future capability.   

 “You can think of it like open-heart surgery. You are fixing critical components, but the patient’s heart needs to keep beating,” said Hoying. “To that end, we often build the new capabilities side-by-side with the old, so we can rapidly switch between the two until the new system is proven to work.”