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505th Command and Control Wing News

Tethered Aerostat Radar System Optimization

  • Published
  • By Deb Henley, 505 CCW Public Affairs
  • 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron

The 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (RADES) recently conducted an analysis and optimization of the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) in support of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The aerostat-borne surveillance system provides radar detection and monitoring of low-altitude aircraft and surface vessels along the U.S.-Mexico border and select Caribbean areas.

The TARS program, operated by CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO), consists of eight aerostat sites with six along the Southwest Border (Yuma and Ft Huachuca, Ariz.; Deming, N.M.; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas) and additional sites in the Florida Keys and Puerto Rico. The 84 RADES’ personnel recently completed a baseline evaluation of the L-88A radar and its associated systems at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The team successfully met their optimization objectives, which included determining air space coverage capabilities, optimizing the primary operating parameters, ensuring radar and radar processor performance requirements, and the proper operation of equipment. According to DHS, “the eight TARS sites represent less than two percent of the total integrated radars in Air and Marine Operations Surveillance System (AMOSS), yet accounted for nearly half of all suspect targets detected by radar.”

AMO uses TARS to provide long-range detection of low-altitude aircraft at the radar’s maximum range. The elevated sensor mitigates the curvature of the earth and terrain masking limitations. TARS detects and tracks a majority of suspicious air traffic along the southwest border, including ultralight and short landing aircraft threats.  DHS requires this unique TARS capability in areas beyond the southwestern border, including the Gulf of Mexico, southern Atlantic, and Pacific coastlines, and extended regions throughout the Caribbean used by transnational criminal organizations for illicit smuggling of narcotics and people. DHS recently released that from “FY14 through FY19, TARS was responsible for detecting 70 percent of all suspected air smuggling flights approaching the Southwest border from Mexico.” 

TARS augments fixed, ground based radar systems that currently support the Caribbean Air and Marine Operations Center (CAMOC), a component of CBP’s Air and Marine Operations, that provides detection, monitoring, sorting, tracking and coordination of law enforcement response to suspect airborne and maritime activity along the borders of Puerto Rico.