White Sands Missile Range is now the only place in the world that can say it houses three Multiple Object Tracking Radars. Only five exist in the world.
Each MOTR was worth $36 million when they were built in the mid-1980s.
The MOTR-4 is WSMR’s most recent acquisition and was scheduled to be broken down to pieces and sold for parts. WSMR Electronics Engineer and Radar Lead Jeff Jenkins worked with several commanders for several years to do everything in his power to bring the radar over to WSMR.
“We would never have gotten it if it wasn’t for Jeff,” said Mark Dolly, supervisory electronics technician, MOTR-4 and MOTR-1 site chief. “It took him a couple of years on the phone. I never thought we would get it. We’ve been trying to get new radars since 2000. The cost was higher and the precision was less accurate,” Dolly said. “MOTR-4 is like the peak of my career. There’s only five in the world and no other MOTRs will be made.”
The phased array radar was originally housed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Jenkins said one of the challenges Vandenberg faced was keeping personnel with the proper qualifications to run the radar. Jenkins had heard about the plans for MOTR-4 during an Instrumentation Radar Support Program meeting. Jenkins attends the meetings regularly as a WSMR representative. The program brings in 22 range representatives to communicate their challenges and successes face to face.
“We all meet together and talk. We’re a tight knit community of radar specialists,” Jenkins said.
From there Jenkins got on the phone with the Space and Missile Command to express his interest in obtaining the radar, whole, for future testing.
“They were going to sell it for parts…we diligently worked with a couple of commanders. It realizes a lot of cost savings for White Sands,” Jenkins said.
The radar will replace the AN/FPS-16. The radar holds the tracking accuracy of the FPS-16 but can do so on a multiple track basis. The MOTR-4 replaces two FPS-16s and due to a reduction in equipment, the radar will also replace an equivalent of eight employee’s workload a year.
The MOTR-4 was designed as a transportable radar system and has been transplanted to a similar building at WSMR. The arrival of MOTR-4 frees up MOTR-1 to be able to move as necessary for mission support. Dolly and his team, Brian Riley, electronic radar technician, Billy Sheehan, electronic radar technician, Victor Rejino, electronic engineer and Jenkins will soon move from MOTR-1 to MOTR-4 operations. Currently the team is manning both systems. WSMR has been looking to upgrade the FPS-16s before MOTR-4s arrival. If the FPS-16 systems were to have been upgraded it would have cost the installation about $7.5 million to upgrade in order to bring them to modern standards. A new FPS-16 would have cost about $9 million. On average, the FPS-16 is used for 25 tracks.
Jenkins said the new radar will help reduce 70 percent of the cost associated with radar.
“It gives us improved data quality. FPS can’t collect what MOTR collects. We hope at the end of the day that it’s a more reliable benefit to the installation,” Jenkins said. “Those radars are not designed to provide precision measurements.”
Dolly said WSMR should have had three MOTRs in the 80s, however, with the loss of the Challenger Space Shuttle the MOTR-2 was diverted to Cape Canaveral. MOTR-5 is currently in Wales, United Kingdom. Any attempt to recreate the radar would costs upwards of $70 billion. MOTR-3, also owned by WSMR, is located at Russ site north of Holloman Air Force Base.
“The cost for some of these proposals are just phenomenal. Now they just can’t make one,” Dolly said.
The radar is lauded for its capability because it is able to transmit a pulse of energy through phase shifting elements. The pulse is then delayed by a fraction of a wavelength, which causes the beam to steer off boresight, the angle through which a seeker can engage a target, which allows it to cover a 60 degree area. The energy is received and processed by any one of three channel receivers.
“One of the things that’s most important is being able to produce accurate data,” Jenkins said. “These radars are older and they’re unique.”
MOTR-4 arrived at WSMR in 2011. Dolly said there were several green lights the team had to get before they could set-up the new MOTR. He said it wasn’t until 2015 that Dolly said they got the green light to set up the radar. Dolly and his team disassembled the radar in 2011 and reassembled it again in 2015, within two weeks of receiving the green light. He and his team even set-up the wiring in the internal building to ensure the radar worked appropriately.
“We tore it apart, we did it, we didn’t have a contractor do it,” Dolly said.
Dolly served as the chief for MOTR-1 for 20 years. MOTR-1 will soon be moved mid-range to make room for MOTR-4. At the end of January the team conducted a test to track a satellite in space. They were able to track the satellite, however an error alert indicated that the boresight tower would need to be reevaluated before they could do a follow-up test track, which is currently planned for Feb. 16.
“It’s an awful lot of equipment to take such a basic measurement but it’s pretty important to our customer. I did not expect we could get this radar,” Dolly said.