USAF Bolstering Ground-Based Radar Sites

The Air Force is looking add sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIFs) to its installations with ground-based space surveillance radars to allow operators to share certain types of classified information. Here, the world's most powerful phased array radar helps airmen with the 20th Space Control Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., track more than 20,000 objects in space. Air Force photo by Kristin Stewart.

As part of its transition to a new concept of the space situational awareness mission, the Air Force is in the process of adding sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIFs) to its installations with ground-based space surveillance radars.

A SCIF is a facility certified for the sharing of certain types of classified information. Currently, only the AN/FPS-85 phased array radar at Eglin AFB, Fla., has a SCIF, said Col. Douglas Schiess, commander of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson AFB, Colo., during an AFA Mitchell Institute event in Washington, D.C. Friday. The AN/FPS-85 is the only phased array radar capable of tracking objects 40,000 kilometers away, according to an Air Force release.

The problem is that radar crews often do not have access to comprehensive intelligence about the space objects they are tracking. “How do I prepare the next space warfighters to know what’s going on if I can’t even tell them what the threat is?” Schiess asked the audience.

The solution is to provide “intel officers to each of those radars,” but SCIFs will be required in order to share that intelligence with the radar operators. When tracking objects in space, Schiess said he needs his radar crews to know “what that satellite is,” but also “what it can do to one of my assets.” Ultimately, the combination of tracking data and intelligence reports will enable crews to anticipate when an adversarial satellite “is getting ready to do something” out of the norm, or even aggressive.

Beale AFB, Calif., also will have a certified SCIF “in a few weeks,” Schiess said. After that, SCIFs will be installed at Cape Cod AFS, Mass.; Cavalier AFS, N.D.; and Clear AFS, Alaska—all locations of ground radars within the US space surveillance network. Schiess said he wants a SCIF at RAF Fylingdales, England, as well, but “we’re still working … on how we’re going to do that.”