Military Wiki
Country of origin US
Introduced 1975 (1975)
Number built 1
Type phased array radar

The AN/FPQ-16 Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System (PARCS or EPARCS)[1][2] is a powerful phased-array radar system located in North Dakota. It is the most powerful of the US Air Force's fleet of five radars used for missile warning and space surveillance.

PARCS was originally built by General Electric as the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR), part of the US Army's Safeguard Program anti-ballistic missile system. PAR provided early warning of incoming ICBMs at ranges up to 2,000 miles (3,200 km), feeding data to the interceptor station, equipped with a shorter-range radar. The PAR and other systems were collectively known as the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex. With the signing of the ABM Treaty in 1972, the US was limited to a single ABM base protecting missile fields, and a second partially-completed PAR in Montana was abandoned in-place. In 1975 the House Appropriations Committee voted to close Mickelsen and shut down Safeguard, which occurred in July 1976.

After Mickelsen was shut down, the Air Force's Aerospace Defense Command took over the PAR site and re-activated it in 1977 in the early warning role. It was later transferred to Strategic Air Command. The site was initially known as the Concrete Missile Early Warning System (CMEWS) after the nearby town of Concrete, but when that town's post office closed in 1983 it became the current Cavalier Air Force Station. The satellite tracking role was later added, and in that mission PARCS monitors and tracks over half of all earth-orbiting objects. PARCS was initially slated for closure in 1992, but was instead upgraded with newer electronics to become EPARCs.

EPARCS is currently operated by the 10th Space Warning Squadron, 21st Space Wing, and maintained by BAE Systems. In addition to contractors, NORAD has US and Canadian military members assigned to the facility.



PARCS seen from the north-west. The main antenna is centred. The radome on the roof protects a satellite communications antenna. The buildings on the right are the power plant.

The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) could originally acquire an object the size of a basketball 24 cm (9.4 in) at 3,300 km (2,100 mi), e.g., a warhead from a submarine-launched ballistic missile launched in Hudson Bay; and the resolution at similar range was enhancable to less than 9 cm (3.5 in).[3] Original PAR equipment included:

  • a Beam Forming Network (BFN), the phased array of 6888 elements—originally 6144 GE crossed-dipoles of beryllium copper[4] Each element consists of a support rod and two crossed dipoles, bent back at 45 degrees to form an arrow head shape.
  • a "phase shifter platform" was inside of the PAR Building's sloped wall,[5] and a "microstrip high power UHF phaser" was later developed for the BFN.[6]
  • a Beam Steering Computer with Sensor Control System Program [1] for steering/controlling the BFN
  • a Beam Power Supply[2][7] with Power Supply Control set [3]
  • a duplex Digital Data Group for timing signals in the electronic equipment
  • a Radar Maintenance Console to allow monitoring of antenna beam shape
  • a Radar Return Generator for simulation of intermediate frequency (IF) signals into the signal processor's IF input.

Other systems

In addition to the PAR, the system includes a 14 megawatt electricity system with five, 16 cylinder diesel/natural gas Cooper Bessemer engines for 5 GE generators.[8] A small "antenna measuring radar" with radome was on the building's top[9] which was later replaced by a satellite communications antenna.[10] EPARCS also includes an electrical substation and heat sink.[11]

The PAR Data Processor--with Central Logic and Control including redundant Processor, Program Store, and Variable Store units[12]—provided missile/satellite track data for communications equipment to transfer to NORAD, etc. and was listed as a separate procurement item from the Perimeter Acquisition Radar by the Congressional Record.[13] For the Advanced Data Communication Control Procedure, the ADCCP communication processor invented in the 1980s by Lynn O Kesler "translates messages between" the PARCS data transmission controller and Cheyenne Mountain.[4]



The PAR design traces its history to the Nike-X ABM program of the early 1960s. Nike-X was at attempt to address problems with the earlier Nike Zeus ABM system, which could only attack three or four missiles at a time due to its use of mechanically steered radars.[14] The Weapons Systems Evaluation Group predicted that the Zeus system could be penetrated with a 90% probability simply by firing four warheads at it, a small cost to destroy a base that would hold as many as a hundred missiles.[15]

Bell Labs proposed replacing the Zeus radars with a phased array system in 1960, and were given the go-ahead for development in June 1961. The result was the Zeus Multi-function Array Radar (ZMAR), an early example of an active electronically steered array radar system.[16] MAR was made of a large number of small antennas, each one connected to a separate computer-controlled transmitter or receiver. Using a variety of beamforming and signal processing steps, a single MAR was able to perform long-distance detection, track generation, discrimination of warheads from decoys, and tracking of the outbound interceptor missiles.[17]

MAR allowed the entire battle over a wide space to be controlled from a single site. Each MAR, and its associated battle center. would process tracks for hundreds of targets. The system would then select the most appropriate battery for each one, and hand off particular targets for them to attack. One battery would normally be associated with the MAR, while others would be distributed around it. Remote batteries were equipped with a much simpler radar who's primary purpose was to track the outgoing Sprint missiles before they became visible to the potentially distant MAR. These smaller Missile Site Radars (MSR) were passively scanned, forming only a single beam instead of the MAR's multiple beams.[17]


The cost of the MAR system was so great that it could only realistically be used at high-value sites like large cities. Smaller cities would be left undefended in the original Nike-X concept. Starting in 1965 some effort was put into the concept of an autonomous Sprint base using a cut-down MAR, TACMAR. Further work led instead to an upgraded MSR, TACMSR. The MSR didn't have the range needed to alert the base in time to respond, which led to the spring 1965 idea of a very long-range early warning radar who's primary purpose was to alert bases around the country. The system had only rudimentary tracking capabilities and no decluttering system, these tasks would be handed off to the radars the PAR alerted. As the radar would be used only during the opening phases of the attack, it was not hardened against explosions, greatly lowering construction costs.[18]

Later in 1965 another study considered a light Nike-X system consisting solely of autonomous MSRs and early-warning PARs. This led to contractor studies for the PAR system. Bell Labs completed a specifications document in October 1966, and General Electric won the following development contract in December.[19] Under this model the PAR would not only be used for initial detection, but also help generate accurate tracks so the MSRs would know precisely where to look for their assigned targets. This demanded higher resolution than the original VHF design, although not as high as the MAR's microwave frequencies. In April 1967 the decision was made to move to UHF. This would help PAR deal with the effects of nuclear blackout, as well as allowing it to use more common parts to the point that the UHF PAR was ordered off the shelf.[20]

Nike-X becomes Sentinel

Nike-X had been designed to provide a strong defense over point targets, but by the mid-1960s this was no longer economically possible as the number of ICBMs in the Soviet fleet grew into the hundreds. Instead, a new concept was developed to provide light defense over the entire country. Whereas Nike-X relied primarily on Sprint, the new deployment would rely primarily on the Spartan to provide protection over about a 400 miles (640 km) radius. This concept emerged as the Sentinel Project, which was effectively, a less-dense, less-expensive, long-range version of Nike-X.[20]

Under the original development plans, PAR was intended to be used purely as an early warning system, handing off initial data to the autonomous MSRs. As such, the system was not intended to be hardened against nuclear attack, as its loss would not effect the ability of the MARs and TACMSRs to continue the battle. This lowered the construction cost of the PAR. Another cost-saving move was to use VHF radio frequencies, which dramatically lowered equipment costs compared to the L band (microwave) MAR. Finally, PAR had significantly less complex data processing needs, which was important in an era of expensive computers.[21]

Under Sentinel, none of these assumptions were true. The elimination of MAR meant that PAR had to handle the long-range tracking for the Spartan missile, which passed out of range of the MSR. This meant it could no longer be considered unimportant, so the radar had to be hardened and protected. Handling Spartan also required upgrades to the tracking and discrimination systems, as well as the communications systems that sent that data to the TACMSRs.[21]

It also meant that the VHF frequencies could no longer be used, as they were subject to an effect known as nuclear blackout which would render large areas of the sky opaque. This was fine for early warning; by the time the warheads were going off the PAR would already have served its purpose. For Spartan guidance this was not acceptable. This effect was mitigated at higher frequencies, so the decision was made to move to UHF. Experiments at the Prince Albert Radar Laboratory suggested that this would also improve performance in the presence of aurora. However, due to a number of technical factors, this also meant that four times as much power would be required to reach the same detection performance. Some of this cost was offset by the move from separate transmit/receive arrays used on the MAR and early PAR to a single array.[22]

In the end, PAR looked a lot like a less-capable version of the original MAR it had intended to replace. In September 1967, General Electric was given the go-ahead to begin development of a production PAR system.[20]

Sentinel becomes Safeguard

As strategic balance and budget issues continued to weight on the decision to deploy an ABM, Sentinel was itself cancelled. On 14 March 1969 President Nixon announced it would be replaced by the Safeguard Program, which would deploy a small number of Sprint-heavy sites around the Air Force's Minuteman missile bases. The idea now was to provide protection to the bases against any attempted sneak attack, ensuring the Minuteman missiles would survive and thus present a credible deterrent force.[20] The decision to deploy the first two of potential twelve sites passed in the Senate in August 1969 by a single vote, that of vice president Spiro Agnew.[23]

Sites were selected for the first two phases of Safeguard deployment, Phase I at Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota, and Phase II at Whiteman AFB Missouri and Warren AFB Wyoming. Only the Phase I sites required PAR, the Phase II sites would use the Phase I PARs for their early warning. GE released the PAR design for manufacture in early 1970, and the North Dakota site was selected to act as the R&D site for PAR.[24]

Construction and closure

Construction on PAR-1 in North Dakota began in April 1970, and PAR-2 in Montana in May. Extensive testing was carried out over the next year at GE's Syracuse offices, while while the Army Corps of Engineers installed the heavy equipment. Work continued until August 1972 when the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreements were signed. As part of SALT, the ABM Treaty limited each country to only two ABM sites, one protecting the nation's capital, and one protecting a missile field. Work on PAR-2 in Montana stopped, and the partially complete building stands to this day.[24]

Major construction on PAR-1 was completed on 21 August 1972 and test operations commenced. Antenna alignment was completed in August 1973, and the first successful tracking of a satellite and a radio star took place that month. The test period ran for two full years before the official Equipment Readiness Date was declared on 27 September 1974.[24] Through this period, construction on the MSR and missile batteries was continuing, and the entire Mickelsen base reached its Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in April 1975.[25] The complex was declared fully operational on 1 October 1975.[23]

The very next day, the House Appropriations Committee voted to shut down Mickelsen and end the Safeguard program. A follow-up bill in November allowed funds to continue operations at PAR-I. The MSR was shut down in February 1976 and the missiles began to be removed.[23]


PAR was leased to the Air Force in September 1977,[26] who began operations in October 1977.[27] Initially the USAF designated the base as the Concrete Missile Early Warning System (CMEWS) after the nearby community of Concrete.[28] When the post office in Concrete closed in 1983, the base was renamed as Cavalier Air Force Station and the radar itself became PARCS. Assigned in 1983 to pass "tactical warning and attack assessment data" from the PARCS to Cheyenne Mountain was the 1st Space Wing's Detachment 5 (1986 10th Missile Warning Sq, 1992 10th Space Warning Squadron).[citation needed]

Enhanced PARCS

The Enhanced Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System (EPARCS) was established by 1989[1] (the "AN/FPQ-16" had become a Major Defense Acquisition Program) and was planned to be closed in September 1992.[11] Instead in 1993, ITT Federal Services took over operations and maintenance from PRC, Inc.,[11] and a narrative about the radar was published by Earth Technology Corporation.[26] Since receiving a $6.7M operations, maintenance, and logistics contract in 2003,[5] BAE Systems has maintained the radar and other EPARCS subsystems[29] (an extension was granted in 2012).

Deployment of the Solid State Phased Array Radar System (SSPARS) replaced BMEWS and upgraded AN/FPS-115 PAVE PAWS with solid state power amplifiers (e.g., with a 1987 AN/FPS-120 at Thule); but for the EPARCS with "obsolete radar technology" in 1994 and for Cobra Dane in Alaska,[11] L-3 Communications was contracted to supply 2004-9 TWTs.[30] Late in the 2000s decade the USAF began upgrading SSPARS to use Boeing AN/FPS-132 Upgraded Early Warning Radars (UEWR)[31]—e.g., replacing the 1992 AN/FPS-126 at RAF Fylingdales.[32] In 2010, a committee assessed the status of the EPARCS [6] and by February 1, 2012,[33] "the USAF embarked on a modernisation programme for its AN/FPQ-16"[2] as with the Clear AFS "UEWR modernization [began] in FY12"[34] for replacing Clear's AN/FPS-123.

External images
phased array under construction with equipment in front (without antenna measuring radar)
1972 PAR Building (TIME magazine)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Harkavey, Robert E (1989). Bases Abroad: The Global Foreign Military Presence. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2014-03-25. "Systems used primarily for early warning...Enhanced Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System (EPARCS)" 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "United States of America -- PARC Life". November 28, 2012. Retrieved 2014-03-26. 
  3. Lewis, George, ed (April 12, 2012). "Space Surveillance Sensors: The PARCS (Cavalier) Radar". Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  4. Bell Labs 1975, p. 8-7.
  8. tbd, Mark (2011). "Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR), Concrete, ND" (trip report). Cold War Tourist webpage. Retrieved 2014-03-19. 
  9. Bell Labs 1975, Figure 8-9.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Bonham
  12. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Chapter8
  13. (Congressional Record -- Senate) Safeguard Anti-Ballistic-Missile System (Report). July 8, 1969. Retrieved 2014-03-25. 
  14. Bell Labs 1975, p. I-33.
  15. WSEG 1959, p. 11.
  16. Bell Labs 1975, p. I-35.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bell Labs 1975, p. 2-3.
  18. Bell Labs 1975, p. I-38.
  19. Bell Labs 1975, p. 8-1.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 Bell Labs 1975, p. 8-2.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bell Labs 1975, p. 8-3.
  22. Bell Labs 1975, p. 8-10.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Safeguard, FAS
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Bell Labs 1975, p. 8.3.
  25. Bell Labs 1975, p. 8.7.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Teledyne
  27. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named BurnsSiracusa
  28. Godfrey, Jim. "Cavalier Air Force Station: Instant to Watchful Instant". Peterson Air Force Base. Retrieved August 2012. 
  29. "BAE Systems Awarded $60 Million in U.S. Air Force Contract Extensions to Maintain Space Radar and Telescope Systems". BAE Systems. November 27, 2012.!-1646284472. Retrieved March 2014. 
  32. "Fylingdales". Retrieved 2014-03-08. 

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).