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Innovation in action

The 6th Space Warning Squadron, located at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., operates a Pave PAWS early warning radar. Despite operating a 30-year-old system, Team Six has discovered a number of innovative initiatives to enhance operations and increase the radar’s mission effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The 6th Space Warning Squadron, located at Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., operates a Pave PAWS early warning radar. Despite operating a 30-year-old system, Team Six has discovered a number of innovative initiatives to enhance operations and increase the radar’s mission effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo)

CAPE COD AIR FORCE STATION, Mass. -- Early warning radars have been a work-horse of the United States' missile warning network for more than 30 years.

This network, called the Integrated Tactical Warning and Attack Assessment network, is comprised of multiple systems which detect and track intercontinental and sea-launched ballistic missiles. These sites also work as collateral sensors in the Space Surveillance Network, tracking earth-orbiting satellites and reporting the information to the Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The Northern Hemisphere is home to six of these U.S. and allied ground-based early warning radar sites, which all contribute to the ITW/AA network. Of the six sites, the two radars located at Clear AFS, Alaska, and Cape Cod AFS, operate the Pave Phased-Array Warning System, initially designed for cold-war era threats and space traffic, while the rest have undergone major system modifications in the past decade.

To compensate for an older system design in the face of modern threats and a congested space environment, the 6th Space Warning Squadron, known as Team Six, at Cape Cod AFS, is continually innovating and executing a number of little-to-no cost initiatives to enhance operations and increase the radar's mission effectiveness.

For example, Team Six site analysts and tacticians have been searching for methods to increase the amount of radar resources devoted to space surveillance mission planning, without degrading missile warning capability. The team identified a default radar setting that might be adjusted and, after conducting a three-day test in November 2011, realized better than expected results. The radar acquired 9 percent more satellites and detected 28 percent more small objects.

The increase in smaller and total objects tracked provides more accurate data to improve space situational awareness, which helps protect both manned and unmanned space platforms and the national investment they entail. Improved space situational awareness is critical to achieving the wing's national security objectives in space.

The results from early initiatives have led to a micro-renaissance of ideas in Team Six and has encouraged personnel at all levels to contribute to innovation. For example, Team Six has moved many internal processes to SharePoint to improve knowledge management and sharing, and to streamline coordination and facilitate feedback from external organizations.

Sometimes, change is an internal idea; at other times, change is driven by pressure from outside or above the organization. Along with other ground-based radar sites and with the support of higher headquarters and functional staff, Team Six has undertaken an Air Force Space Command initiative to reduce the operations crew size from three to two operators.

This initiative is an innovation unto itself, requiring more efficient utilization of crew resources and weapon system interfaces. Operation and tasking of the Pave PAWS radar is more manually intensive than with the upgraded radar systems, so Team Six and the Sentinels of the 13th and 213th Space Warning Squadron at Clear AFS identified software changes to help crews excel in the new environment. Those software changes may take years to implement, and in the mean time, innovation will be the key to employing this system to the edge of its capability.

Some of these innovations are like sudden seismic movements, while others accumulate drop by drop, but promise a sea of change in culture.

Ever Aware is the 6th SWS motto, but with Team Six's taste for innovation, it might as well be Ever Aware, Ever Changing, and that's exactly the culture we need to dominate our high ground.

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