Rare radar saved from scrap heap

February 17, 2012

By Mr John Andrew Hamilton (ATEC)

White Sands Missile Range saved a $22 million radar while enhancing its own testing capabilities with the recovery of a rare radar system that arrived on the range Feb. 10.

The Multiple Object Tracking Radar which had been used at Vandenberg Air Force Base was slated to be scrapped as a cost cutting measure by the Air Force. When they learned of the Air Force's plan to scrap the rare and still operational piece of technology, WSMR test officers, realizing the systems value to range operations, arranged for the radar to be uninstalled from its mountain top facility in California and transferred to the range. "It's a terrific acquisition that the radar personnel and White Sands Missile Range staff acquired from Vandenberg, so we are very fortunate and I believe that it will complement finely the ultimate radar plan that White Sands Missile Range and the Department of Defense is so famous for," said Carlos Bustamante, a former chief of the National Range Operations Directorates Data Collection Division. Bustamante was at the gate to see the arrival of the radar, having been employed at the range to also see the arrival of the first two. Thanks to the efforts of WSMR's team of radar experts who planned and executed the transfer of the radar to WSMR, the Army is allowing this rare and valuable piece of technology to continue operating in support of WSMR test operations. "We've got a $22 million piece of equipment that, save for the efforts of the fine (WSMR crew)would have been on the scrap heap somewhere in an Air Force yard being knocked on with sledge hammer for spare parts," said Michael Garcia, WSMR's director of range operations.

The MOTR is a radar system developed on WSMR. Designed to track the exact location of up to 40 airborne objects at once the radar system is so rare that only five of them have even been built. At White Sands the MOTR system is used as part of WSMR's flight safety operations, carefully tracking airborne systems under test to ensure that the system is flying where is should be.

WSMR originally planned to have three such radars installed on the missile range, but the number three radar was diverted to Cape Canaveral following the accident that claimed the space shuttle Challenger and her crew.

While the MOTR series was designed to be a transportable system, the radar that arrived from Vandenberg had been configured for mounting on a permanent facility rather than a trailer. This meant that the WSMR team in charge of moving the system had the job of not only shipping it to WSMR, but also to disassemble the radar at Vandenberg and then reassemble it at WSMR. "They might be the only people in the world that have the skill and the ability and the knowledge and the political and administrative backing to take that instrument, disassemble it, truck it over here, and put it back together for a very good purpose and a broad range of customers here at White Sands," said Garcia.

To accommodate the changes made converting the system to be building mounted, the radar will be installed in a building near C-Station on the south end of WSMR. "This is the perfect place to look up range," said Louie Garcia, chief of WSMR's radar branch .

The location will allow the newly arrived radar to take over the responsibilities of a trailer mounted system currently positioned at C-Station. "The plan is to put this one into a permanent site, and MOTR 1 will be transportable so we can move up range or whatever," said Louie Garcia . This plan will allow the mobile system to be located in a new location on the range that will better compliment the other radars, or allow the radar to be deployed to other test locations around the world without disrupting WSMR's capabilities.

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