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850 ELSG office leads way in integrating radars' missile defense abilities

Feb. 22, 2007 -- The defense of the United States against potential missile threats is steps closer to fruition thanks to the efforts of the 850th Electronic Systems Group's Upgraded Early Warning Radar Program Office, which is charged with incorporating missile defense into existing Air Force early warning radars.

"We will have a ballistic missile defense option that allows us to not only identify and track, but also intercept and destroy warheads in flight," said Col. Michael Cox, UEWR program manager.

The office's mission is to sustain the existing large-scale ballistic missile early warning radars for the Air Force while also developing the missile defense capabilities put into those radars for the Missile Defense Agency. It manages the sustainment and development efforts for six ground-based radars. Four have been or are currently being upgraded -- COBRA DANE at Eareckson Air Station, Shemya, Alaska; Beale AFB, Calif.; Royal Air Force Fylingdales, United Kingdom; and, Thule Air Base, Greenland. The upgrade effort will eventually include radars located at Cape Cod, Mass., and Clear, Alaska.

Incorporating the Missile Defense mission into the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System and PAVE PAWS radars brings with it the major change of allowing for offensive responses to shoot down missiles.

This will act as the nation's first ballistic missile defense by a ground-based sensor network, and feed into the Ballistic Missile Defense System that MDA is also putting in place.

"This new capability allows the war fighter to do something against incoming ballistic missiles, whereas before we were only able to say 'duck,'" Colonel Cox said.

Additionally, the upgrade brings with it capabilities that better equip the war fighter to take on threats. Improved tracking capabilities and a clearer picture will translate into a more thorough battlespace view.

"It gives the war fighter more flexibility, and a better view of ... what the real situational awareness of a threat is," the colonel said.

The radars provide tracking data and estimate launch and impact points of missile threats. That data is then fed into the Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment system. Analysis of this information allows for mobilization of forces - moving equipment and airplanes and providing launched bomber fleets with responses.

At the same time, data is passed on to MDA's Ground-based Midcourse communication network. This in turn provides information for the launching and guidance of interceptors against incoming missile threats.

In addition to work on these radar upgrades, the program office's role as the front line of the ballistic missile defense effort recently positioned the team for a one-of-a-kind experience.

As a result of information that North Korea could be launching missiles, the program office jumped into action, immediately establishing 24/7 technical support operations. On the afternoon of July 4, 2006, the United States detected multiple missile launches from North Korea.

"It's unique for an acquisition organization like us to go into 24/7 technical operations support," the colonel said. "But because of the stage of development we were in and the importance of our radars as the primary sensor, that's what we did right here in this building - operations in support of the potential threat."

Though the missile launches were identified as tests, the colonel said the team was at the ready if the launches were real.

"It did get exciting. It did get scary," Colonel Cox said. "But we postured ourselves to support and provide the warning that we needed from our radars to support the BMDS."

While the program office was at work, senior Defense Department officials were watching the reports and tracks coming out of the radars.

"We have a very professional work force, and they all knew what their jobs were that day," he said. "They were focused on the mission, and everyone was mobilized to support that mission. And that was truly the exciting part."

And though the entire BMDS is currently in development, Colonel Cox said what lies ahead is equally important.

For the system, the future means a continual capability evolution, bringing with it more defensive and offensive options against long-range threats. It also means improvements in radar accuracy and reporting times that will consequently feed into offensive capabilities already in place, he said.

"We'll continue to look at ever-emerging threats, both on a strategic level and on a tactical level."