Photo Courtesy: U.S. Air Force Photographer. Photo is a Common Air Route Surveillance Radar (CARSR) at La Grange, IN.
The 84th RADES at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, evaluates Long Range Radars all over the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, and in several deployed areas of responsibility. Typically, this unique mission involves a great deal of travel with teams going to austere radar sites for 14 – 21 days to perform analysis, evaluation, and system performance optimization. The COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions forced the unit to modify many processes to continue to perform their mission.
The unit currently receives over 450 live persistent 24-7 radar data feeds and archives it for five years. These feeds and raw radar data enable RADES to conduct many aspects of their mission despite the pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions. The unit has developed specialized software that allows this data to be analyzed near real-time for system performance and record it for past to present comparisons.
“This comparison of previous performance results is what makes a remote evaluation without travel feasible,” said Mr. Leonard Stephens, 84th RADES radar evaluation flight chief. “We always used remote evaluations to supplement our on-site optimizations, but during these unique times, it has become the mainstay for our operations.”
A remote evaluation still requires a team of experts to choose a location to be evaluated, form clear objectives to be accomplished, determine an approach, and complete the assessment. Each evaluation looks at how the radar performs today and then compares it to how it operated against itself and like systems a month ago, three to five months ago, and five years ago.
Another component of the evaluation, is the weather and environmental effects on the LRR. The lone Airman in the RADES’s weather shop calculates atmospheric conditions for each radar and surrounding area, then the in-house survey section applies new screening impacts from past known surveys and new digital downloads to every evaluation effort. The results and recommendations are then compiled into a formal report and distributed to interested parties.
The 84th RADES supports five major LRR programs: the Common Air Route Surveillance System, which has 81 interior systems across the U.S., the Air Route Surveillance Radar, version four, which includes 44 LRR’s around the perimeter of the U.S., the Atmospheric Early Warning System, 36 systems in Alaska, Canada, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and 31 short-range systems across the Northern Canadian border, the Control Reporting Center, which consists of 38 USAF mobile radars; and the Tethered Aerostat Radar System which are eight Department of Homeland Security systems across the Southern U.S. border.
Only one team was in the unit at a time to maintain social distancing and keep personnel numbers down at the squadron. Some of the data analyses are now accomplished by downloading data onto RADESNET laptop computers allowing more personnel to telework. Each evaluation takes three weeks to accomplish, utilizing two days in the squadron each week. All in all during the COVID crisis, twenty remote evaluations were completed and provided the radar community beneficial performance information on vital systems across the country.
“Although remote evaluations do not and will not replace boots on the ground on-site, full evaluations, they have proved a very valuable tool during the pandemic travel restrictions,” said Stephens.
“During this unique COVID-19 crisis, the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron professionals continue to support the National Defense Strategy and Department of Defense objectives by ensuring North American air sovereignty and air defense despite an increasingly complex global security environment,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jesse Scott, 84th RADES commander. “The RADES specialized software, in-depth sensor analysis capabilities, and robust sensor network allow us to seamlessly provide optimized real-time sensor data and historical performance information to the Air Defense Sectors and other federal agencies enabling the Department of Defense’s command and control mission.”