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Clear Air Force Station

Air National Guard.png Alaskan NORAD Region Emblem.png

Part of Alaska Air National Guard (AK ANG)
Denali Borough, Alaska, United States
Clear Air Force Station Alaska.jpg
Aerial view of Clear AFS
Type Air Force Station
Coordinates Latitude:
Longitude:
Built 1959 (BMEWS);
1998 (CRU/SSPARS)
Built by Air Force Materiel Command, Raytheon (1998–2000 CRU)[1]
In use 1959–present
Controlled by United States Air Force
Garrison 213th Space Warning Squadron 213th Space Warning Squadron - Emblem.png

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Clear Air Force Station (ICAO: PACL) is a United States Air Force Station located 5 miles (8 km) south of Anderson, Alaska, USA, 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Mount McKinley, and 78 miles (126 km) southwest of Fairbanks. Its primary mission is to detect incoming ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Clear AFS is operated by the Alaska Air National Guard 213th Space Warning Squadron (213 SWS). The primary mission is to provide Early Warning of Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs) and Submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBMs) to the Missile Correlation Center (MCC) at North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The secondary mission of Clear AFS is to provide Space Surveillance data on orbiting objects to the Air Force Space Command Space Control Center (SCC) also located in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. Clear accomplishes these missions using the Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS) radar.

History[edit | edit source]

Clear Air Force Station has a rich history with very humble beginnings. The area's first permanent landmark was the Alaska Railroad whose line from Anchorage to Fairbanks was completed in 1918.[2] The land was purchased by the Department of the Interior in 1949. Alaskan Air Command soon designated it Clear Air Force Auxiliary Field, part of Ladd Field, for use as a gunnery range.[3]

1950s[edit | edit source]

In 1959, a 10-by-40-mile (16 km × 64 km) strip of wilderness at Clear was appropriated to become Site II of the Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). Site I, Thule Air Base, was already under construction at Thule, Greenland, and Site III, RAF Fylingdales, would soon follow near Fylingdales Moor, North Yorkshire, England. A camp area was erected adjacent to the railroad, and groundbreaking for the new radar took place in May 1959. Over the next two years, construction would continue on the three massive detection radars The radars, designed by GE and MIT's Lincoln Lab and built by RCA, measure 165 by 400 feet (50 m × 122 m), and weighed 1,000 short tons (910 t; 890 long tons) each. Considering there were no major roads in the area at the time, the construction of Clear was an enormous undertaking with a final price tag of $360,000,000.[citation needed]

1960s[edit | edit source]

In addition to the technical site (the area containing the radars, radar support buildings, and power plant), two permanent dormitories, a mess hall, recreation area, and administrative area (collectively known as the composite site) were also completed nearby. Initial operational capability was achieved on July 1, 1961, and full operational capability was declared three months later. In November 1961, the Air Force's Air Defense Command accepted the facilities from Air Force Systems Command, which had been overseeing construction. The responsibility for operation lay with Detachment 2 of the 71st Missile Warning Wing. Although the site belonged to the Air Force, civilian contractor personnel actually performed the missile-warning mission until 1964, when Air Force personnel finally permanently manned the Tactical Operations Room (TOR).

In 1964, the Good Friday Earthquake, the second largest earthquake ever recorded, shook Alaska. Although no casualties were sustained, the earthquake caused the site to "go red" (unable to perform the mission) for six minutes.

Although designed to detect incoming missiles, Clear's radars were also useful in tracking satellites in low earth orbits. Further improving this capability, as well as providing enhanced accuracy of launch and impact predictions, was the mechanical tracking radar, an 84-foot (26 m) diameter radar on a moving pedestal housed in a 140-foot (43 m) diameter radome. The tracker became operational in 1966.

On January 1, 1967, Detachment 2 became the newly created 13th Missile Warning Squadron. One of the squadron's first acts was to provide emergency shelter to 216 refugees from Fairbanks and the surrounding area when a devastating flood struck the region in August 1967. That same year, the squadron was given funding for additional building construction. Despite the new construction, many of the "temporary" buildings from the original camp area are still in use today.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Clear played a part in a series of experiments affecting its radars. One such experiment was conducted by the University of Alaska, which injected sulfur hexafluoride into the upper atmosphere to see if the Aurora Borealis could be dissipated or intensified.

1970s[edit | edit source]

In 1970, Clear received its first Outstanding Unit Award.

In 1971, the 13th MWS was reassigned from the 71st Missile Warning Wing to the 14th Aerospace Force.

The 1970s also saw a number of firsts at Clear, including the assignment of its first female officer in 1973. In the same year, the 13th MWS was awarded its second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. The 13th was reassigned from Air Defense Command to the Strategic Air Command (SAC) through 15th Air Force in 1979.

1980s[edit | edit source]

In 1981, Clear underwent a major modification when it was feared that the radome, housing the tracker radar, was unsafe; a nearly identical radome had recently burnt to the ground at Thule. This project saw the disassembly of the tracker, the demolishing of the existing radome, the construction of a new radome, and the reconstruction of the tracker.

The 13th was again reassigned on May 1, 1983, this time to Space Command's 1st Space Wing. Another first at Clear, which received a lot of local publicity, was the first all-female crew, which pulled a shift on February 28, 1986.

When Thule and Fylingdales were converted to phased-array radar systems, Clear became the last mechanical missile warning site in the US. It was decided that Clear would be upgraded with a phased-array as well, and the Clear Radar Upgrade (CRU) was born.

Clear Radar Upgrade[edit | edit source]

The 11-story tall SSPARS Structure

Rather than build a completely new radar, the CRU utilized existing radar components from the deactivated PAVE PAWS SLBM warning site at Eldorado Air Force Station, Texas. Ground was broken for the new radar in April 1998. The new radar is known as the Solid-State Phased-Array Radar System (SSPARS — pronounced "ES-pars"). On December 15, 2000, after nearly 40 years of operation, the last of the original BMEWS radars ceased transmitting, and the SSPARS began 24-hour operations. Initial Operational Capability was declared on January 31, 2001.

2000s[edit | edit source]

More recently Clear underwent another metamorphosis. In 2001 Clear began its transition from an Active Duty, dependent restricted, remote short tour to a full-time Active Alaska Air National Guard unit.

Despite the many hurdles, Clear celebrated the historic standup of the 213th Space Warning Squadron on 30 August 2006. This marks the first time a Guard unit has taken on a mission of this type. Clear now comprises Active Duty Air Force, Alaska Air National Guard, Canadian Air Force, civilian, and contractor personnel.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

Clear Air Force Station


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