By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
Cavalier Air Force Station, N.D. — Once a major piece of U.S. nuclear defenses during the Cold War, Cavalier Air Force Station continues to be a significant link in the nation’s missile warning and space defense scheme.
The 10th Space Warning Squadron is a geographically separated unit of the 21st Space Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. Cavalier Air Force Station, N.D. is about 15 miles south of the Canadian border. The installation initially provided the first and only ballistic missile defense of ICBM fields in the northern U.S. Following the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty II that mission was terminated. Soon after, new dual missions of providing missile warning and supporting space surveillance began. The Perimeter Acquisition Radar Attack Characterization System at Cavalier AFS is the only Safeguard component that was not deactivated.
The most prominent structure at Cavalier AFS is the Perimeter Acquisition Radar building, a ground-based Integrated Tactical Warning/Attack Assessment sensor key to the National Military Command System. The building housing the PARCS radar system, often referred to as the second tallest building in North Dakota after the state capitol, is an electro-magnetic pulse hardened structure built as part of the Army’s anti-ballistic missile Safeguard program.
“PARCS’ primary mission is Missile Warning; its secondary mission is Space Situational Awareness,” said Lt. Col. John Koehler, 10th SWS commander. “PARCS is uniquely positioned to view objects approaching the United States and Southern Canada from the north. It has a visibility range of 3,300 kilometers, which is approximately 2,000 miles.” This allows the world’s most capable radar to provide observations on thousands of earth-orbiting satellites.”
The PARCS provides around the clock missile warning data to North American Aerospace Defense Command and space surveillance data to United States Strategic Command. The system monitors and tracks more than half of all earth-orbiting objects to enable space situational awareness. The 10th SWS team provides real-time missile warning data to the secretary of defense and the president to assist in decision making.
“Cavalier AFS is a unique installation with unparalleled personnel,” said Koehler. “The opportunities here rival and exceed what I’ve experienced at previous bases over my 17 years of service. The missions have direct impact on capabilities provided globally, from the farmers in the local area to operations overseas. This is truly the nation’s most capable radar operated and maintained by the most capable team of Airmen.”
There are about 130 people working at Cavalier, he said. Most are contractors performing a variety of services like maintenance, custodial services and firefighting. There are about 40 military and five government civilians in the mix. The installation is considered an isolated facility and too small to provide all the functions of a typical base, so some services are made available through other bases.
Grand Forks AFB, 80 miles south, provides security forces personnel and support functions like finance and medical, for example. Emergency services like hazardous waste disposal and explosive ordinance disposal are provided by Minot Air Force Base about 200 miles west.
The site is remote, but Cavalier personnel stay active in the local community, participating in events ranging from parades to providing a color guard at various ceremonies. Volunteering is a big part of the military lifestyle, and there are many opportunities for 10th SWS members to participate. Extracurricular events like zip-lining in Canada, fishing and ice fishing at local lakes and rivers, camping and boating at Icelandic State Park in the summer, and skiing are available year round. On-site activities like bowling, potlucks, and karaoke are available all year at the Community Activity Center, lovingly called the Mangy Moose.
To bring the installation from the look associated with its time as a prominent Cold War site into the 21st century, a number of upgrades took place. A $4.8 million construction project added 14 new housing units for military families living on station, Koehler said. The project included a new community center and indoor play area aimed for use during cold winter months.
“The project represents a significant increase in the quality of life for base residents,” Koehler said.
A $20 million High-altitude Electromagnetic Pulse protection project is nearing completion, including 10 major subprojects at the station. Koehler said these projects should ensure Cavalier’s operational relevance far into the future.