The 6th Space Warning Squadron, Cape Cod Air Force Station, Mass., is a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. "Team 6" includes active duty U.S. and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel, DoD civilians and BAE Systems employees.
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 determine if the detection is valid or due to computer, mechanical or personnel error, determine the number of launched vehicles and provide impact predictions on North America to U.S. and allied decision makers.
Its secondary mission is tracking Low-Earth-Orbiting objects such as the International Space Station, and any object that deviates from its known orbit, or any new orbiting objects.
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 AFB, Calif., where it's used to maintain a space catalog including roughly 20,000 currently orbiting objects and assists national and international agencies ensure satellites will safely launch and orbit, avoiding collisions.
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.
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.
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, Mass.) and the other on the West Coast (Beale AFB, Calif.). 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 Air Force Station on Jan. 5, 1982. The 2165th would exist as a tenant unit until 1986, when both squadrons merged into one.
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.