Fielding event marks end of radar construction by Army engineers in Alaska

  • Published
  • By Ms. Rachel Napolitan
  • USACE Alaska District

At a military installation tucked along a remote stretch of two-lane highway in Interior Alaska, officials recently celebrated the achievement of a major milestone with a fielding event for a newly constructed long range-discrimination radar on Dec. 6.

The national defense system at Clear Space Force Station was delivered through a collaborative effort between the DoD Missile Defense Agency, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Space Force and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District.

“As the nation’s expert in arctic engineering and construction, we take great pride in delivering projects that support the national defense mission,” said Col. Damon Delarosa, district commander.

The accomplishment marks the transition from the construction phase of the project to the testing, operation and maintenance stage of the system.

“This initial delivery is an important step to declare that we are done with the major construction,” said Vice Adm. John A. Hill, director of the Missile Defense Agency. “We are now fully into the test mode of this radar.”

The new radar is designed to protect the homeland by tracking potential ballistic missile attacks from foreign adversaries.  The goal is to be fully operational by 2023, according to Hill.

The radar is equipped with a wide field of view and arrays on the sides of the facility each measuring 60-feet high by 60-feet wide. These and other features provide the ability to search, track and discriminate multiple objects in space, including all classes of ballistic missiles. Future iterations of the radar's software will allow it to also track advanced threats.

For the Alaska District, the massive undertaking required a huge commitment of resources and intense application of engineering expertise to produce a successful outcome. Of the approximately $1.5 billion to design, build, construct and test the radar, $347.5 million went toward military construction.  The project was executed in two phases. The initial work provided a mission control facility, equipment shelter foundation and security complex. Follow-on endeavor established a maintenance facility and power plant.    

“The military construction effort was significant and only could have been accomplished by a talented team of architect-engineer firms and construction contractors as well as personnel from our resident office and project management division,” said Matthew Johnson, program manager at the Alaska District.

To build a long-term project at a location an hour and a half south of Fairbanks, the district established a temporary workforce camp to house the crews and ensure that the program could be delivered on time. Since construction at the site began in 2017, 863,000 hours have been logged to the critical components that will make the radar a success.

Ultimately, strong relationships and effective communication were a vital aspect of the construction process.

“The most challenging part of construction has been managing interfaces – both between prime and subcontractors, as well as the radar prime,” said Johnson.

All the primary contracts were awarded to Alaskan construction companies that worked under the management of the Alaska District. In an impressive feat of coordination and engineering, USACE placed 3,980 cubic yards of concrete over 19 continuous hours for the foundation of the LRDR Equipment Shelter foundation in 2018. The effort required the services of three concrete batch plants and six pump trucks to complete the job.

Construction halted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the setback, most projects were completed on or before schedule to keep everything on track.

“We are nearly 95% complete, but that last 5% will take 100% of the team’s effort,” said Johnson.

In the coming months, the Alaska District will finalize and integrate the new power plant with the rest of the campus. The final step will be to execute an integrated system test that verifies functionality of the back-up power plant with the radar.

“After nearly five years of dedicated focus and hard work, it’s an honor to hand over the reins to this important project and see it advance to the next phase,” Delarosa said.

To see a video of the construction process, click on this link: