Military News

Friday, July 10, 2015

COBRA DANE team moves forward with radar's sustainment plan

by Justin Oakes
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

7/9/2015 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- The Battle Management program executive officer at Hanscom AFB recently approved a strategy for the sustainment of one of the largest radars in the Air Force's arsenal.

The COBRA DANE radar located on Shemya Island, Alaska, stands 120 feet tall, has a 95-foot diameter, detects objects 2,000 miles away and was built in the 1970s to serve as an early warning system during the Cold War.

Control of the radar's operation and maintenance contracts transferred to the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center's Battle Management Directorate from Air Force Space Command in May 2015.

With a short amount of time until the current contract expires, the COBRA DANE program team finalized a sustainment plan to award a new sole-source contract before the existing agreement runs out in December of this year.

A panel of acquisition specialists was able to identify key aspects and challenges associated with maintaining the aging radar system.

"For most of the radar, options for long-term supportability are diminishing and becoming more expensive, as significant portions of the system and its facilities infrastructure are well past the system's original design lifespan," said Capt. Daniel Barker, COBRA DANE deputy program manager. "Many of the original 1970s equipment manufacturers no longer exist. As a result, most spare procurements require identification of alternate industry sources to perform expensive and time-consuming re-engineering."

Part of the sustainment process requires the program team to identify which components have available commercial-off-the-shelf replacements and which parts are in need of re-engineering.

COBRA DANE is a ground-based, L-band, phased-array radar that provides midcourse coverage for U.S. Strategic Command's Ballistic Missile Defense System. The radar can detect sea-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles, classify re-entry vehicles and other missile objects and track threats with enough accuracy to commit to launching interceptors and update in-flight targeting data.

"Certainly the missions have changed since the end of the Cold War, but the utility of the COBRA DANE radar has actually increased over time," Barker said. "The radar's small object detectability performance is better than any of the other Space Surveillance Network phased-array sensors currently available."

Within the past three years, COBRA DANE expanded its role to include tracking deep space satellites. It operates as part of the larger Space Surveillance Network and provides observation data to agency command and control nodes.

Additionally, COBRA DANE supports STRATCOM's Space Object Identification mission by providing narrowband radar data of man-made resident space objects in low-earth orbit. The collected data is analyzed to determine satellite characteristics such as size, shape, motion and orientation. SOI information is used to ascertain the mission and operational status of various payloads and aids in forecasting maneuvers or deorbits.

"COBRA DANE is the only large L-band phased-array radar in the Air Force's inventory that can accomplish the small object tracking and discrimination necessary for the missile defense and space situational awareness missions," Barker said.

In order to meet the program's aggressive timeline, officials expect to release a request for proposal in August; the result will be a two-year estimated $77 million contract with a subsequent competitive follow-on option for five years valued at $150 million.

"Nearly 40 years after construction, COBRA DANE continues to exhibit a respectable reliability record with outstanding performance over multiple missions that have evolved over time," Barker said. "With a concrete strategy in place, we move forward to the next phase of sustainment."

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