THE 6TH SPACE WARNING SQUADRON
The 6th Space Warning Squadron (6 SWS), located at Cape Cod Air Force Station in Sagamore, Massachusetts, is a geographically separated unit of Space Delta 4, Buckley Space Force Base, Colorado. "Team 6" includes Department of the Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force Airmen and Guardians, DoD civilians, and InDyne employees.
The 6 SWS mission is to surveil air and space to detect, track, report missile launches and high-satellite interest passes while operating, maintaining, and protecting Massachusetts’ sole United States Space Force installation.
The 6 SWS vision is leaders and innovators in ground-based radar operations and installation defense.
The 6 SWS has the distinction of being the first Pave PAWS installation in the country. "Pave" is a program name for electronics systems. "PAWS" stands for phased array warning system. The technical name for this radar is AN/FPS-123.
The Pave PAWS radar monitors and tracks over 23K Earth-orbiting objects to enable space domain awareness, continuously providing crucial missile warning and space surveillance data to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and coalition partners. The 6 SWS is the only land-based east coast radar site in the United States, located 60 miles south-east from Boston, Massachusetts.
Cape Cod AFS's “Team 6” uses the Pave PAWS radar to guard North America's east coast against sea-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Within 60-seconds after detecting a launch, the crew on duty must assess system performance to determine if the data exhibits characteristics consistent with established phenomena attributed to an actual event or if indications may be due to computer, mechanical or personnel error. The radar system determines the number of launched vehicles and provides impact predictions on North America to U.S. and allied decision makers for the safety and security of North America. An upgrade to the radar system in 2020 now allows for data to also be routed to the Missile Defense Agency and added the co-primary missile defense mission.
Its secondary mission is tracking low-earth-orbiting objects, such as the International Space Station, and is able to detect any object that deviates from its predicted orbit or any new satellite objects out to 5-thousand nautical miles.
Typically, the 6 SWS performs approximately 2,600 satellite tracks totaling about 9,100 observations daily. This critical tracking information is electronically transmitted to the 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg SFB, California, where it's used to maintain the satellite catalog including roughly 20,000 currently orbiting objects and assists national and international agencies to ensure satellites can safely launch and orbit avoiding collisions.
EQUIPMENT AND FACILITIES
The Pave PAWS radar uses 3,584 small active antenna elements coordinated by two computers. One computer is on-line at all times, while the second automatically takes control if the first fails.
The computers control the distribution of energy to the antennas to form precise patterns, allowing the radar to detect objects moving at a very high speed since no mechanical parts limit the radar sweep.
The radar can change its point of focus in milliseconds, while conventional radars may take up to a minute to mechanically swing from one area to another. The main building is shaped like a pyramid with a triangular base 105 feet on each side. The two radiating faces, each with 1,792 active elements, are tilted back 20 degrees. Pave PAWS radar beams reach outward and upward for nearly 3,000 nautical miles in a 240-degree sweep.
At its extreme range, it can detect an object the size of a small car. Smaller objects can be detected at closer range.
On Aug. 27, 1973, the U. S. Air Force directed the construction of two sea-launched ballistic missile phased array radar systems. On May 23, 1975, it was announced one site would be constructed on the east coast (Otis AFB, MA) and the other on the West Coast (Beale AFB, CA). On May 23, 1975, the Raytheon Corporation was awarded the contract to build the facility. Construction began on Oct. 26, 1976, on Flatrock Hill, the second highest point on the Cape.
The 6th Missile Warning Squadron and the 2165th Communications Squadron were activated Oct. 1, 1979. The 2165th was responsible for all communications and electronics maintenance. The facility was originally named Cape Cod Missile Early Warning Station and became operational April 4, 1980.
The station's name changed to Cape Cod AFS on Jan. 5, 1982. The 2165th would exist as a tenant unit until 1986 when both squadrons merged into the 6th Space Warning Squadron, formerly part of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson AFB, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The land, leased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the Department of the Army, was permitted on Sept. 2, 1981 for 25 years to the Department of the Air Force. The permit granted approximately 87 acres for the Pave PAWS site, 11.5 acres of access road, and two acres for utility lines (100.5 total acres). On Aug. 26, 2002, the Army extended the permit through Sept. 30, 2026.
On Dec. 20, 2019, United States Space Force was officially established and 6 SWS became a part of the newest branch of the United States Department of Defense. On July 24, 2020, the 6 SWS was transferred to Space Delta 4, Buckley AFB.